Fundraiser Works to Increase Human Trafficking Awareness


Sage Mitchell-Sparke

College sophomore and Creative Writing major Zachariah Claypole-White, a member of the OSlam poetry group, delivers passionate verse. OSlam was one of many student arts collectives to lend its voice at a fundraiser to combat human trafficking last Friday.

Sage Mitchell-Sparke

Over 20 million people worldwide are living in slavery. Last Friday at the Cat in the Cream in “Project Unbound: Humans Against Trafficking,” several victims of the modern slave trade shared their stories. College first-year Sarah Blum organized the event, which was dedicated to raising funds and awareness about this $150 billion industry. The student group that Blum works with, Project Unbound, was created two years ago with the mission statement “Inspiring Creativity to Fight Human Trafficking Locally.”

“The more you know, the more passionate you are,” Blum said. “Now that I know, I just can’t stop. My heart is on fire for this cause.” Ohio has a sizable human trafficking problem; Toledo is a source city for this type of crime. Awareness about human trafficking in Lorain County was low until a 2009 case, in which individuals who were allegedly guilty of rape and abduction were only charged with drug possession. Blum explained why it had taken so long for people to take action and why it is still difficult to prosecute those in charge.

“[Sex traffickers] are smart. They have layers and layers of protection,” Blum said. “For the court system to prosecute the trafficking case, they have to witness the transaction,” she continued. “The justice system isn’t enough of a threat to them. They can walk around with their pimp name tattooed on their body and still be free men. This sounds like it couldn’t happen here, but it does.”

During the fundraiser, Blum named some of the survivors whose stories she had heard. “[These are] people like your brothers and sisters,” she told the audience. “It’s hard to wrestle with the abstract … but you can relate more to stories.” Many performers and attendees were shocked by statistics about the ages and sheer numbers of children in the sex trade.

“The stories inspire people to become more involved,” said College sophomore and OSlam poet Zachariah Claypole-White, who performed at the fundraiser. “The ages were the main things that got to me … how young the majority of people were.” There are over 5.5 million children globally estimated to be involved in the sex trade each year.

Blum said she is trying to increase awareness about these issues. “What really struck me was the narrative she told,” said College first-year Justin Jimenez, who also performed poetry at the event. “When she talked about Lorain being a huge center for human trafficking … I haven’t heard much conversation about that here.”

Education and action were emphasized throughout the program. Blum mentioned a few internet resources, such as the Polaris Project for National Anti-Human Trafficking, and invited attendees to participate in weekly Humans Against Trafficking meetings. “Increase your knowledge,” Blum told the audience. “Do readings. Don’t be a bystander. So many cases would be stopped if people would call the hotline. If you’re wrong, that’s better than not calling the police.”

Partly due to the number of Oberlin groups that performed, including OSlam, the Obertones and Pitch, Please, the event was well attended. Following a musical segment, poets also performed. Many of the poems dealt with related themes like sexual assault and oppression in our society. A poem by College junior B.J. Tindal described how “we live in a world where bodies are under attack.”

Jimenez’s poem “Speak, Gentle Child” centered on standing up for justice. One repeated line in his poem, “Speak, when they have taken control, for you have songbirds in your throat,” struck a chord among attendees. To close the show, Blum herself read a poem she had written about rape. She received a lengthy standing ovation for her courageous and elegant writing.