Beliefs Culture

Sidebar: Professionalizing Human Trafficking Activism

(RNS) Human trafficking, with images of child laborers and sex slaves, is ready-made for the kind of sharing and conversation that characterizes social media.

However, the recent popularity and subsequent controversy of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video is cited by critics who fault social media activism as “slacktivism”—an ineffective and easy form of social justice advocacy.

That's not the whole picture, says Claude d’Estree at the University of Denver. D’Estree said videos and photos posted to social media can inspire someone to investigate an issue at a deeper level.

Students can go beyond conversations on Twitter and Facebook at the University of Denver, which has created a two-year clinic on the issue of human trafficking in efforts to create more effective leaders.

“Passion is all great, but I want to match the passion with intellectual rigor,” d’Estree said.

Denver’s Human Trafficking Clinic offers a two-year graduate program to train students to work in the field of human trafficking.

Other universities are developing similar coursework. Spring Arbor University, a small Christian college in Michigan, is creating a four-class series for students who want to study human trafficking, said Matthew Osborne, the vice president of enrollment management. The courses will be for students of any major.

With a four-year turnover rate at college campuses, it’s a challenge to sustain any movement over an extended period of time. But Kevin Austin, faith community manager at the nonprofit Not for Sale said young people of faith are looking for ways to continue their activism by incorporating it into their careers.

“It’s just a matter of time before they have more time and money, and they’re working in occupations where they can really make a difference,” Austin said. “In another five or 10 years, I think we’ll see something significant from the 20-somethings.”

Some students have changed the direction of their careers to work directly with human trafficking. Katie Freehling, the student who leads the Freedom Movement at the University of Missouri, hopes to do just that.
Freehling interned in Nepal last summer with the Christian anti-trafficking nonprofit Tiny Hands International. There, she met a 14-year-old girl who barely escaped being trafficked.

“When I came back, it all just started to sink in, what I had witnessed, what I knew to be true, what people were experiencing,” Freehling said.

Retired Macalester College history professor and human trafficking activist James Brewer Stewart said students of faith make their careers more meaningful when they incorporate human trafficking activism.

“It’s a way to say, this is why I want to become a lawyer or be involved in teaching,” Stewart said. “It’s a moral dimension to the way I live. It’s not just making money. It’s leading a substantial and morally informed life.”