Vigil raises awareness on modern slavery

COSTA MESA — Bundled up and wearing a price tag that read "How much does a human cost?", about three dozen people gathered Tuesday evening at Vanguard University to pray for the end of modern slavery.

Vanguard's Global Center for Women and Justice Department hosted a candlelight vigil at the private school's Needham Chapel Courtyard on National Freedom Day. The vigil aimed to raise awareness for human trafficking locally and globally.

"It is against every aspect of human dignity," said Sandra Morgan, the department's director. "People should not be sold, and as long as someone is being sold, everybody is less. We're a global community and what impacts one community, impacts every community."

National Freedom Day, held on Feb. 1 each year, commemorates President Lincoln's signing of a joint resolution that eventually became the 13th Amendment, which ultimately abolished American slavery. It comes after National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a distinction for the month of January created in a 2010 proclamation signed by President Obama.

The day is about remembering where the country has been and looking at where it is going, said Tina Kroona, 24, a Vanguard alumna and administrative assistant for the department.

In this country, and even in Orange County, people are still being denied freedom by being coerced into performing labor or being forced to do sexual acts.

Westminster Police Department Lt. Derek Marsh said he sees people in the county forced into sexual slavery, working in restaurants or doing cleaning and domestic services.

Marsh, who runs the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, said he's seen cases range from someone being held captive in handcuffs and beaten to being treated relatively well but still denied the freedom to leave.

Since 2006, the task force has helped about 100 people get out of what is referred to as modern slavery, Marsh said.

"No human being deserves to be enslaved," he said, adding later, "Even if you have one person enslaved in our country, it's not OK."

The vigil wasn't just about raising awareness for the issue, but to inspire students to get involved and give them practical ways to help eradicate the problem, Kroona said.

"We want to really empower the students to feel like they can stop it," Kroona said. "Everyone plays a part in stopping it."

Several Vanguard students spoke about projects they are involved in that contribute to decreasing human trafficking, from providing rehabilitation assistance to survivors to giving at-risk people a job.

Richard Schmieg, a Cal State Fullerton alumnus, is interning with Krochet Kids International, a business started by Vanguard students that provides impoverished women in northern Uganda with a job crocheting hats.

The women are taught to crochet and are given training on how to manage a business and a budget, and save money. They are also paid a fair wage for their wares, which are sold at Nordstrom locations, the 22-year-old said.

"You can see that this hat is changing someone's life," said Schmieg, as he held up a white and burgundy striped hat.

The key to stopping trafficking is halting the demand, Morgan said.

Human trafficking is about supply and demand, she said. If someone is willing to buy something made with slave labor, someone else will be willing to make it, she said.

"It's all about making money," Morgan said.

How To Help

Think you know someone who is a victim of human trafficking?

Call the Orange County Human Task Force at (888) 373-7888 or go online to http://www.ochumantrafficking.org.

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