Delta Sigma Theta Sorority hosted two speakers on human trafficking Thursday night in Harris Hall. The event served as part of the international 234+ movement, a conversation about labor and sex trafficking following the kidnapping of over 234 Nigerian schoolgirls in late April.
Before the main event began, Communication junior Maya Simone-Collins distinguished sex trafficking, which involves commercial sex acts against the victim’s will, from labor trafficking, which she said can include work in meat-packaging plants, clubs or hotels. She added that traffickers tend to prey on vulnerable people, like undocumented immigrants and children.
Heather Morse, who spoke Thursday night, works as a human trafficking advocate and residential aide at the Chicago Dream Center, whose mission is to “assist individuals and families to move toward self-sufficiency and overcome poverty and its ill effects,” as stated on the center’s website. She said they work to extend an invitation to women on the street “to come home.”
“Most women in the program don’t identify as a trafficking victim,” she said. “They don’t know the difference between trafficking and getting caught up in [prostitution].”
Claudia Perez of the Rose of Sharon, a ministry service within the Dream Center, spoke about her own experiences as a sex slave in the past and as an outreach worker today. She said she and other women from the Rose of Sharon ministry sometimes stay out as late as 5 a.m. on Friday nights reaching out to women on the street.
“Friday nights … I do have girls’ night out,” Perez said. “We go to areas that nobody wants to go at night … 47 and Ashland, Englewood.”
She said men usually don’t come along because of the risk of creating tension with the “pimps.” When they see women talking to the prostitutes, she said, often they will walk away.
“We have to learn how to read [the women’s] body language because we don’t want to put them in danger,” she said, adding that if the women tell them they cannot talk to them, they respect their wish.
Both Morse and Perez agreed that many times the women on the street do not realize they are being trafficked. They said these women sometimes have nice things to say about their pimps.
“Human trafficking begins in their mind,” Perez said. “They first attack their mind. If they can get their mind, they can get their body.”
Morse told the story of one of the women she had known who, after becoming addicted to drugs supplied to her by her pimp, was at one point beaten by that man and a group of other pimps with a fire poker and locked in a basement for three days. She said the woman later recounted redeeming qualities about the man, like the fact that he offered food to the homeless.
“Sometimes you have to love people when you don’t understand,” Morse said.