By Fabiola Barral
After more than a year of planning, the Rosenfield Program proudly presented this week’s symposium topic: human trafficking. Over the course of a few days, the College hosted events and guest speakers centered around this controversial—and surprisingly close to home—issue. James Kofi Annan’s visit to Grinnell last year inspired the symposium, according to Director of the Rosenfield Program Sarah Purcell ’92, History.
“James’s personal story of being sold into forced labor in a fishing camp at a young age in Ghana and his work to save children consigned to a similar fate really inspired our students and faculty committee members,” Purcell said. “We decided that the campus would benefit from a deeper look at the issue.”
The program’s first event was “The Truth About Domestic Sex Trafficking and How it Affects You” and featured speaker Tina Frundt, who spoke on the issue of domestic sexual exploitation, including pimp- and family-control situations. Frundt, a victim of sexual human trafficking herself, described how openly Americans have glamorized pimping and how detrimental the glossy image is to victims/survivors.
“She really broadened my understanding of how coordinated and organized pimp culture is and what kind of impact that subculture has on broader perceptions of and actions taken on sex trafficking,” said Anna Hall ’13, founder of the Grinnell Free the Slaves chapter.
Wednesday’s convocation featured acclaimed writer Louise Shelley. Shelley is currently a professor at George Mason University and is also involved in researching many types of illicit trade. Her book, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, is widely cited in the realm of trafficking research. Shelley’s talk, entitled “The Business of Human Trafficking,” explained how connected trafficking is with the development of the world. In her talk, Shelley discussed how climate change, something seemingly disconnected from trafficking, also affects the business of human trafficking.
“You cannot study this [human trafficking] in isolation—it is connected to sociology, economics, political science and many other subjects,” she said.
Within her talk, Shelley placed emphasis upon how the business is not nearly close to being abolished. In fact, she argues that without awareness this business is likely to exponentially increase.
“In this country, we have almost no persecutions of people in labor trafficking,” Shelley said. “There needs to be more awareness. We’ve been a long time coming with where the problem is. In Iowa, it’s only been four or so months where there have been persecutions on human trafficking.”
That same night, there was a panel discussion entitled “Fighting Human Trafficking in Iowa,” where members of the Grinnell police force described their experience dealing with human trafficking in Iowa. Although it may seem as though Iowa is much too remote for human trafficking, this erroneous assumption is part of what the Rosenfield Program hoped to address through this symposium.
“One excellent feature of this symposium is the way it brings together all three themes that the Rosenfield Program focuses on: public affairs, international relations, and human rights. We seek to educate the campus and the community in these important areas, and this symposium allows us to examine how they are connected,” Purcell said.
Shelley also shed light on many other forms of human trafficking that are discussed even less than sex trafficking. One of the greater misconceptions about human trafficking is that it only exists as sex trafficking. However, the United States is also affected by labor trafficking, where individuals are smuggled across nations, continents and the world and then forced into labor.
Hall agreed with Shelley that more awareness is key to creating an impact on this subject.
“I believe the best way to help end human trafficking is by spreading knowledge and awareness about the issue and how to fight it,” Hall said. “I hope that everyone who attends these symposium events takes the information to their friends and families and spreads the word.”
For those interested in the topic of human trafficking, Free the Slaves meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Voicebox on the third floor of the JRC.