To kick off this semester, the LEAP Center and Pre-Law Society hosted the biannual ice cream social, followed by a panel of experts discussing one of the world’s hottest topics: human trafficking. With more than 120 people attending the combined events, we were able, we hope, to kick off the semester on a fun, educational note.
The ice-cream social offered great finger foods, the chance to learn more about LEAP’s many upcoming events, and also the opportunity to win some back-to-school prizes.
We hope the students had a good time, even when they had to address head-palm moments….
Mostly, though, we hope they learned about our upcoming events, such as our workshops with Nancy Bocskor, our planned small-group meeting with former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, our hosting the 10th Court of Appeals on campus, the Citizenship Preparatory Course we offer to local immigrants, our volunteerism at the Wynne Home for the annual Empty Bowls program, and our participation in the upcoming “College Bowl” competition hosted at the Texas City Managers Association Conference.
At the meeting, Heather touched on some housekeeping like the upcoming events, the next meeting, and the last day to pay dues which will be February 16th.
In addition to the panelists, we were honored to have a guests from off campus. Dr. Manis from the College of Osteopathic Medicine in The Woodlands joined us, as did Mr. Ken Holland, a member of the Huntsville ISD School board.
For the main event, Professor Yawn introduced our guest speakers: Dennis Mark, who is a Task Force Coordinator at Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance; Daniella Perez an Outreach Coordinator with Love146; and Sergeant Robert Medel with the Houston Police Department (Vice and Human Trafficking Unit).
Professor Yawn began the session asking where Houston ranks in the nation in terms of trafficking. The answer, sadly, is first–Houston’s access to the border, its transportation accessibility, as well as the number of entertainment options, special events, and its remarkably diverse population, all contribute to its potential for trafficking.
Mr. Mark added that Houston has one of the oldest and most experienced forces investigating trafficking, allowing it to also be one of the most successful agencies at combating trafficking.
Because of the proliferation of trafficking, it is happening everywhere. “Anywhere there are people,” Sergeant Medel noted, “there are people being taken advantage of.” And this, continued Medel, is at the heart of trafficking, which is defined as “the exploitation of someone by means of coercion.”
There is no one definitive type of human trafficking victim, but most victims have had early trauma or “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs). Many of these women (and it is mostly women) may enter trafficking through drugs, prostitution, or online pornography, but there are many victims outside of the stereotype. Mr. Mark,. for example, shared the story he helped recover: she was a University of Texas student by day, passing her classes and seemingly doing well, but in the evenings and night, she was engaging in online pornography at the behest of a “handler.”
The victims, according to the panel and Professor Yawn, often suffer from either Stockholm Syndrome (when the victim bonds with her captor) or cognitive dissonance (when the victim believes two contradictory elements simultaneously), and this makes it difficult for them to find the strength to leave. Sergeant Medel stated that “It takes a victim seven times to realize they are victims and to leave permanently.”
Ms. Perez highlighted the many problems (“co-morbidities”), physical and mental, associated with trafficking. These include sexually transmitted diseases, broken bones, addiction, depression, even tuberculosis. These problems are cumulative, in part because handlers don’t want the victims going to the doctor’s, which may raise red flags.
The panelists closed–prompted by a question from Ken Holland–with a discussion of how we may be able to identify victims of human trafficking. There are numerous such indicators, but some common ones include malnourishment, avoiding eye contact, allowing others to answer or speak for them, and tattoos.
Possibly the most inspiration words were those Mr. Mark made in closing. “To the ladies, know your self-worth and value, do not let anyone else determine that. And to the men, do not believe the culture of women being objects. Be careful, guard your mind and heart. Be honorable in all you do and how you treat women.”
With Mr. Mark’s words reverberating through our minds, we wrapped up the formal event. But the panelists, graciously, agreed to stay and answer questions, an opportunity many students availed themselves of.
In addition, Professor Yawn and Mr. Mark discussed the possibility of internships, the LEAP Ambassadors offered gifts to the panelists as a “thank you,” and we posed for a final photograph to help us remember a wonderful and educational evening.