Tuesday, March 17, 2009

National Conference at Mercer on March 19-20 to Call for End to 21st Century Slavery

Mercer University will host a national conference on human trafficking, titled “STOP Sex Trafficking: A Call to End 21st Century Slavery,” on March 19-20 in Willingham Auditorium on Mercer’s Macon campus. The conference is organized by Mercer students in STOP, the Sex Trafficking Opposition Project, to counter the growing worldwide crisis. According to the U.S. State Department, more than a million women and children are trafficked into sex slavery each year. Nearly 20,000 are trafficked annually into the United States and many of these victims are trafficked into the Southeast.

The conference will feature rescued trafficking victims Kika Cerpa and Joana Santos, who will share their stories. In addition the conference will include presentations from prominent national figures in the anti-trafficking movement, including rock musician and filmmaker Justin Dillon, who will also screen his anti-sex trafficking film, Call+Response, at the conference; Patricia McCormick, the best-selling author of Sold, the story of a Nepalese child trafficked into sex slavery; and Lauran Bethell, founder of a Thailand trafficking refuge center and recipient of the Baptist World Alliance Human Rights Award.

“The students’ aspiration is, first, to make sure Macon is not a home for trafficking and, second, to combat sex trafficking wherever it is occurring,” said Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, senior vice provost for service-learning and an adviser to the conference. “The students are fired by idealism but they also have a very informed, practical sense of how to carry that idealism into effective activism.”

The goals of the conference include: raising awareness about sex trafficking, encouraging faith-based mission work overseas and support groups to help survivors here at home, aiding service providers, law enforcement and local government in fighting sex trafficking and supplying care for survivors, and providing a forum for student groups to join together to end sex slavery.

The STOP organization was founded by Mercer students to take on the issue of prostitution-related trafficking in the Middle Georgia area. The conference will build on STOP’s efforts, student organizers say.

“We’re all passionate about the issue of sex trafficking,” said Hannah Vann, a senior and conference organizer. “The idea that there are sex slaves within miles of where we live is sickening, and we won’t stand for it anymore. We've been working hard to raise awareness about the issue, but the conference will take awareness and activism in Macon, in Georgia and in the region to another level. We want to see Mercerians, Maconites, Georgians and all Americans stand up and call to end slavery, and we hope this conference will help to make that happen.”

The conference has been designed to be welcoming to all: faith leaders, students, scholars, service providers, the legal community and anyone interested in learning how communities can join together to rescue women and children and protect thousands more from sex slavery.

The Sex Trafficking Opposition Project began in a First Year Seminar course called “Engaging the World,” in the spring of 2008. While writing their research essays on contemporary ethics and justice, students started asking questions about the many spas and spa billboards dotting Macon’s landscape. They soon joined ranks with members of Baptist Collegiate Ministries and Women’s and Gender Studies students enrolled in a course devoted to violence against women. At the end of spring semester 2008, this diverse coalition of students formed STOP: Middle Georgia’s first anti-trafficking group.

This conference is being organized under the direction of Dr. Morgan, who also directs the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Dr. Andrew Silver, the Paige Morton Hunter Associate Professor of English. Co-sponsors for the event include: Mercer University, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, Baptist Collegiate Ministries, Evangelicals for Human Rights, and the Mercer Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

“Every year, the traffickers rob millions of innocent victims of their normal lives,” Dr. Silver said. “We’re asking people to spend a few hours with us to help stop them.”

For more information or to register for the conference, visit www.mercer.edu/stop.

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