One independent study course offered this May was not just about informing students but also about encouraging them to fight for human rights.
The course focuses on human trafficking, or modern-day slavery of illegally traded human beings for forced labor and sexual exploitation.
“The main goal is to engage students in thinking about and doing a course of action that will positively impact the issue,” said Dr. Stephen Kandeh (Ph.D., Ohio State University, 2001,) the course’s professor.
Kandeh said students received training as “trafficking detectives,” participated in donor research for several nonprofit organization and completed surveys about the knowledge of human trafficking in small towns in the state.
“The results were troubling,” he said. “The greatest surprise is that most people in rural Oklahoma either are not aware of the ‘modern-day slavery’ activities associated with trafficking, or are at the least unaware that slavery is taking place in Oklahoma, right here in our own backyards.”
Human trafficking is such a significant problem in Oklahoma because it is a crossroads to several major interstates.
“The independent study course is really bringing awareness of human trafficking, or trafficking persons, because many people don’t realize that it’s such a problem,” said Marcy LaFerr, one of the course’s students. “Slavery is still prevalent here … Dr. Kandeh is just trying to bring that fact to light.”
Human trafficking can take several different forms and includes bonded labor, debt bondage, forced labor and forced prostitution.
“Everybody thinks a prostitute is a prostitute is a prostitute, but people don’t understand they can be victims too,” LaFerr said. “There’s a difference between being a prostitute and being prostituted.”
Sickened by the information, USAO students and faculty are already working to make a difference. A group has teamed up to participate in the annual Freedom Rally. Participants from across the state will walk, run, bike, ride motorcycles or drive from their home cities to the Oklahoma City Capitol Building for a rally on Sept. 10.
“Once you know about it, you immediately want to get out there and do something,” LaFerr said. “There’s so much you just feel overwhelmed. There’s nowhere to begin … I think that’s the problem. Everyone feels helpless, until you figure out something to do.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, roughly 12.3 million adults and children are victims of human trafficking. About $32 billion is made in annual trade for traffickers.
“How are people supposed to know there is a problem if they’ve never even heard about it?” LaFerr said, “Just being able to tell one person about it. You never know. Once you tell someone that one thing, you know they are going to talk about it to someone else because it’s such a strong subject. It’s one person more who knew it than yesterday, than five minutes before.”
Kandeh said the response from his class has been strong and the students have been actively involved in the course and the topic at hand.
“Everyone gets really excited about the nature of this crime and all my students go well beyond the call of duty,” he said. “The greatest reward is that every summer semester a few more knowledge-soldiers are trained in the battle against human trafficking.”
More information on human trafficking can be found at www.humantrafficking.org.