The MU Stop Traffic Organization hosted its 2012 Stop Traffic Now Conference on Saturday. The conference, which consisted of film screenings, lectures and panels, drew a crowd of concerned citizens from multiple schools, backgrounds and age groups.
Sponsored by the Residence Halls Association, the Organization Resource Group and the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, the conference was an all-day event that featured open discussions about several issues pertaining to human trafficking, from child labor in Ghana to fair trade and social entrepreneurship.
“The goal is to educate Mizzou students and the local community about human trafficking and the many different forms it takes and the many different issues and how complicated it is,” MU Stop Traffic President Sarah Mason said.
“And we really want to also stress that it isn’t just an international issue," she said. "We really want to stress that it’s also here in America, it’s here in Missouri and Columbia."
Dedee Lhamon, the executive director of the Covering House, a shelter for sexually exploited or trafficked girls in St. Louis, was a member of a panel that spoke about victims’ advocacy and barriers.
“I did a presentation that covered pornography and sex trafficking of children and statistics and case examples in our area,” Lhamon said. “We talked about online trafficking of children and I showed examples of those online trafficking from the Backpage and Craigslist, specifically from the Missouri-St. Louis area, then I talked about the resources and services we are going to provide.”
Lhamon said she became involved in this issue three years ago after seeing a program about local and international child trafficking on MSNBC.
“I thought, ‘Well, if this is really something that’s going on here, I gotta investigate it,’” she said. “So I started researching. I took a whole year. I went to conferences, contacted people I found and realized that the problem is significant and there are very few resources.”
That is when Lhamon decided to found the Covering House, which she hopes will open in January 2013, but will begin offering services in the fall.
There are two things that Lhamon said she wants her audience to take away from her presentation.
“One, that (human trafficking) can happen anywhere, not just inner city, and certainly not just internationally,” she said. “It is suburbs, it’s in small communities, and for people to be aware that it occurs. And then secondly that the Covering House is one of the few homes that will be opening in the country that will provide unique services for these girls.”
The conference also featured a screening of “Call and Response,” a documentary about modern-day slavery, as well as lectures from members of the community that participate in fair trade practices, such as Jessica Canfield, executive director of Mustard Seed Fair Trade, and Plowsharing Crafts manager Rich Howard-Willms.
Freshman Tess Yocom attended the conference’s “Journalism Ethics and Social Issues Panel” after hearing about the conference in her Globalization class.
“I came just to see what human trafficking is all about and how not only the Mizzou community but the world can try to stop it,” she said.
She said she chose the journalism panel because it appealed to her personal interests and to hear an alternative perspective on the issue.
“(This panel is) the only one that really tied with my major, which is journalism, so I thought it would be really interesting to see (the issue) from a journalist’s point of view instead of a political point of view,” she said.
Mike McGraw of the “Kansas City Star” gave the keynote speech at the end of the day. McGraw is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who recently wrote an expose on human trafficking in the U.S.