Shining a light on trafficking

Liberty participates in event to raise awareness about modern day slavery

In the largest awareness campaign for human trafficking at Liberty University to date, approximately 5,000 Liberty students marked their hands with a red “X” and stood with arms crossed in defiance to what many are now calling modern day slavery.

The campaign, which was sponsored by Liberty’s Student Government Association, took place on campus Wednesday, Feb. 24 in the Vines Center immediately after Liberty’s Campus Community — a weekly gathering in which students partake in worship and listen to a biblical message from a speaker.

Taking a stand — Thousands of Liberty students stood up for #LUInItToEndIt. Photo credit: Kevin Manguiob

Taking a stand — Thousands of Liberty students stood up for #LUInItToEndIt. Photo credit: Kevin Manguiob

Red markers were passed out to students after the events of Campus Community concluded, where they were encouraged to draw a red “X” on their hand in remembrance of the more than 30 million people who are enslaved worldwide.

“I love the idea of the red X and what it means,” Haley Van Ness, a Liberty graduate student who played a large role in starting the campaign, said. “When you look at the number (of slaves), it’s normal to think that you can’t fix it, but bringing awareness is the first step.”

The awareness campaign at Liberty came in recognition of Shine a Light on Slavery Day Feb. 25. The day is hosted annually by a coalition of the leading anti-human trafficking organizations in the world, named the End It Movement, which hopes to use the day to raise funds and awareness for the issue.

Van Ness said she wants the End It Movement at Liberty did not only raise awareness of the greater issue of human trafficking but that it was also able to teach students about the local problem of human
trafficking within Lynchburg.

“Once you become aware of the signs and understand them, you become much more aware of the issue,” Van Ness said. “Virginia is one of the top five consumers of human trafficking in the country, and a lot of the signs can be seen right here in Lynchburg.”

Not only is Virginia the fifth top consumer of human trafficking in the country, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, but there also was an 8 percent increase in cases of human trafficking between 2013 and 2015.

The Liberty chapter of the Help Save the Next Girl organization, a non-profit that exists to sensitize young women of predatory danger, is one example of how students around campus are striving to fight the increasing cases of human trafficking.

Leah Deaton, the Liberty chapter’s president, said the Help Save the Next Girl club on campus is specifically trying to spread awareness and educate women in the Lynchburg area of different ways to be aware of their surroundings, helping to limit their chances of being abducted.

“The first step is just stating that it is an issue in our area,” Deaton said. “I think knowing that will make the issue a little more real to the students, and I hope that then more students will stand up and try to take action.”

To Deaton, action comes in the form of putting up posters around campus with tips on the usual signs of predatory danger and setting up booths in the library to raise awareness of the issue. The Help Save the Next Girl club on campus, Deaton said, is also in the works of teaming with the Bedford County Police Department to educate teenage girls on cyber-trafficking.

Prayer, though, is the number one thing Van Ness said she believes people can do to get more involved in helping the issue without having to devote too much time or money. Without constant prayer, Van Ness said people can often become numb to the issue and underplay the significance of it.

“I really think the only way you can save 30 million people in slavery is through prayer,” Van Ness said. “If you’re aware, you’re reminded to pray, and you’re reminded to talk about it.”

Fighting the issue through awareness and prayer can be tough, both Van Ness and Deaton said, because a student cannot see the direct effects of his or her efforts. Without doing so, however, Deaton said there is no way human trafficking prevention can move forward.

“(You can) raise awareness even by just talking to people about the issue,” Deaton said. “What we’re really all doing in the end is giving a voice to people who don’t really have one or can’t really speak up at the moment.”

Young is a feature reporter.

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