Groups fight human trafficking

Several Yalies who donated their meal swipes to Thursday’s Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project fast extended their charity to another cause — the $5 Pan Asian benefit dinner, the finale of the first Stop the Traffic of Human Lives week at Yale.

The Asian American Students Alliance — an umbrella organization for Asian American groups on campus — worked with its affiliated cultural organizations to sponsor the Asian-themed dinner. Almost 300 students attended the event, which raised about $1,500 for Justice for Children International, a nonprofit organization that works to combat child sex-trafficking.

Yale’s first human trafficking awareness week ran from Nov. 13 to Nov. 16 and was a collaboration between AASA, Amnesty International, YHHAP, the Social Justice Network and MAYA: The Undergraduate Marketing and Advertising Association.

“Even though we all come from different backgrounds, we all have a duty to the issue of human rights,” said Christine Nguyen ’09, an AASA community outreach co-chair. “This week is about reaching out to the Yale community, and stressing the need for awareness about the heinous human rights abuses of human trafficking.”

The week’s events were geared toward promoting a greater understanding of human trafficking problems and how students can get involved, she said.

This problem is not only present in developing countries but is also an issue in the United States, said Michelle Wong, President of Insight — the Yale chapter of the National Asian-Pacific American Women’s Forum.

“Human trafficking is one of those concepts that people hear about, instinctively feel it’s wrong, but don’t really know what it involves,” she said.

In addition to the benefit dinner, AASA organized a photo exhibition on Beinecke Plaza, a display of dolls on Old Campus, a screening of a sex trade documentary film and a dinner with guest speaker Gabriela Villareal, coordinator of the Anti-Trafficking Program at Safe Horizons, a victim assistance agency.

“Human trafficking is an invisible issue,” Villareal said in a discussion at the Asian American Cultural Center Wednesday. “No one steps forward and raises their hand to say, ‘I’m a victim of human trafficking.’”

The discussion gave students a chance to share their concerns and ask questions about human trafficking, Nguyen said. Attendees received information about internship opportunities with national and international human rights groups.

Wong said she thinks the campus displays drew a lot of attention, although they may have made some uneasy.

“The photo exhibit and the dolls displayed on Old Campus were definite attention-grabbers, in a somewhat disturbing way, but perhaps that’s how it should be,” Wong said. “This issue should make us feel uncomfortable and horrified.”

Christina Davidson ’09 said that the film — “The Day My God Died” — was extremely powerful even though it did not contain graphic images. The feature-length documentary portrayed a group of young Nepalese girls abducted from their villages and coerced into the sex-trade in India.

“The movie was a really intense experience,” Davidson said. “It was really difficult to wrap my head around the idea that girls younger than me are trafficked everyday. It really makes you think … this could just as well have been me.”

Wong said she was somewhat disappointed with the turnout at the screening, but Davidson said its “non-central location” in the Branford College common room might have deterred some from coming.

Nguyen said she was pleasantly surprised by students’ overwhelmingly positive responses to the awareness week and hopes that AASA can make it an annual event. Wong said Insight also hopes to hold more events to remind students that “this is an ongoing issue that cannot be solved in a week.”

Vietnamese Students Association member Christine Bui ’10 said it is important for Yale students to be exposed to serious international problems like human trafficking.

“We tend to live in a privileged bubble here at Yale,” Bui said. “A week like this really opens our eyes to what’s going on in other parts of the world.”

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