A decade ago, the concept of human trafficking was virtually unknown to the American public. Thankfully, not anymore.
Dr. Celia Williamson, UT professor of social work, has advocated to bring light to the issue and influence changes to limit the modern day slavery that each year forces hundreds of thousands of women, boys and girls to sell their bodies.
“It’s vital that people know that sex trafficking isn’t something that only happens someplace else. It’s not just other countries or other communities. It’s here in Toledo and everywhere,” said Williamson, who also is the founder of Second Chance, a social service program located in Toledo that provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic sex trafficking and prostitution.
“We are not talking about people from other countries being smuggled into America, although that happens. There are at least 100,000 youth victims here in the United States ever year, compared to 17,500 victims from other countries brought here. It’s a real problem that needs to be addressed and that we are working to address.”
The efforts of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition and the annual International Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex Work Conference, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, have influenced reforms of Ohio laws and captured the attention of the FBI. Interactions at the conferences also have led to countless collaborations to raise awareness about the issue and assist victims.
The 2013 conference will take place Thursday and Friday, Sept. 26-27, in the Student Union on the UT Main Campus.
The event will feature a keynote addresses at 12:30 p.m. Thursday by survivors and activists Sarita Skagnes and Theresa Flores. Skagnes is the author of the book Just a Daughter that shares her story of being exchanged by her parents for a boy because they wanted a son and how she was left behind to work as a maid servant. Flores is the author of The Slave Across the Street about her experience as a sex trafficking victim when she was a teenager living in suburban Detroit.
The conference will feature more than 45 presenters who will share the latest in research, policy and programs to address the issue of human trafficking. There will be presentations about recruitment in jails, how hotels and motels facilitate trafficking, transgender youth in the sex trade and more. International components include examining trafficking concerns in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
High school students from the Toledo area also will attend for the first time this year with specific programs aimed at that population.
For registration details and more information on the conference, visit prostitutionconference.com.