VALPARAISO | Local high school students learned Thursday what they could do to help fight and end human trafficking both in the United States and overseas.
About 175 students from high schools in Porter and LaPorte counties attended “Child Slavery: I Can Help Slay the Monster” at Rotary International's World Affairs Conference at Ivy Tech Community College.
The event featured a videotaped keynote speech by Carol Hart Metzker, a Rotarian who was working in India in 2004 when she met an 11-year-old girl rescued from sex slavery there.
Other speakers included Amy Atchison, assistant professor of political science and international relations at Valparaiso University, Porter County Sheriff David Lain and officer Jamie Erow.
Speakers hammered home the point that human trafficking is not just a problem in other countries. There are an estimated 100,000 slaves in the United States and another 300,000 Americans are at risk for becoming victims, according to the FBI.
“We've gotten into a false sense of security that this is distant,” Lain said. “We're learning that's not true. It's everywhere around us, and you are all vulnerable. Because of the Internet, any one of you is reachable by any con person around the world.”
Metzker has made it her mission to fight human trafficking, which includes child soldiers, forced labor and sex slavery. She is the author of “Facing the Monster: How One Person Can Fight Slavery.”
She showed students a map of Indiana that highlighted the hot spots for human trafficking, including urban areas and those near interstates.
Metzker said victims of human trafficking may be working in nail salons, massage parlors, mowing lawns or golf courses, employed in hotels or cleaning stores and restaurants at night.
“We don't see them because they're invisible,” she said. “But we must (try to) identify them because they can't walk away on their own.”
Signs of human trafficking include someone being controlled by someone else, someone who is fearful of authority or someone who appears “oversexualized,” Metzker said.
She urged students to call 911 if they see someone in imminent danger, or to call the human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BeFree (233733).
“One-third to one-half of victims are rescued because a regular person like you or me called that hotline,” Metzker said.
Besides reporting suspicious incidents, students can become better consumers by looking for fair trade products, which are produced without slave labor.
Students also can be on the lookout for vulnerable peers who may be at risk for falling prey to human trafficking predators.
“The biggest thing you can do is befriend someone who is at risk for becoming isolated,” Metzker said.
Learn more at www.facingthemonster.com.