Do you think you can make a difference in this world? Do you think one person can bring change? Most of us were probably raised with the belief that we have all the freedom to do anything we want. We have been raised to believe that anything is possible—at least in theory. But while embracing our liberties and our freedom, we would do good well to remember that there are millions of people around the globe who have no chance at freedom whatsoever.
This year’s Public Affairs Conference (PAC) focused on the global issue of human trafficking. To raise awareness for the event, the PAC Executive Board – consisting of 12 students – highlighted the horrifying statistic that 27 million people are enslaved in the world today. This is a higher absolute number than at any other time in human history. For whatever reason, most people are not aware that this problem can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Furthermore, slavery has become one of the largest and most profitable illegal businesses in the world.
The conference, co-directed by seniors Amanda Dunlap and Kristen Rosen, has made a major impact on this community through the stories of its speakers who work in various occupations to fight human trafficking and related crimes. These speakers consistently risk their lives to rescue and help victims of trafficking and exploitation and are working to educate people around the world about this issue. Even though these speakers come from different backgrounds and have different opinions about and approaches to solving this problem, there was one common message that could be heard throughout the three-day event: Everyone everyone can and must participate in order to create a better and freer world. Dr. David Batstone, the opening speaker and founder of the “Not for Sale” campaign, made it especially clear that everyone has a responsibility to fight this criminal activity on a global scale, and that little will change until we all dotake up this challenge.
The directors and their executive board members attracted some of the most knowledgeable and professional workers, activists, scholars and visionaries in the field to come to Principia College. Director of Speakers Amy Baldauf said: “When we were thinking about the speakers we wanted to get, it made complete sense to me to set the bar high. This topic is so important for the world today, so why not try to get the leading experts in this field? With that mindset, we reached out to these inspiring people, and everything seemed to fall into place. Each speaker brought something wonderful to our conference.”
Aaron Cohen , known for his autobiography Slavehunter, started his human rights career with the successful “Drop the Debt” campaign and then worked for years to rescue child soldiers and sex slaves in various developing countries. Dr. Alexis Aronowitz has spent more than ten years researching the phenomena phenomenon of human trafficking. Her latest book is part of the curriculum at Harvard University. The two youngest speakers of the conference were Katherine Chon and Killian Moote. Chon founded the Polaris Project to raise awareness of human trafficking in the United States while still a student, while Moote works with Dr. Batstone at Not for Sale. Juan José Briones and Anthony DeStefano discussed the human trafficking issue in relation to the situation in the United States and Mexico. Dr. Julia O’Connell Davidson addressed the problematic demand for sex and labor slavery. Kathryn Bolkovac reflected on a rough career as a former police officer fighting human trafficking and undergoing severe conflicts with institutionalized corruption. This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Sunitha Krishnan, founded the Prajwala institution in India, which focuses on the liberation of child slaves in her home country. James Pond, founder of a girls’ shelter in Cambodia, touched the audience with his closing address. He shared very personal stories about the girls he had freed and educated over the last few years.
Before the conference began, Rosen was especially excited to host an event with a focus on human trafficking in light of the special atmosphere Principia College provides. She said: “What is unique about this conference is that it is taking place in a Christian Science community, and I think what will come out of this conference is that then … everyone who attends it will be able to focus their prayers towards finding healing for human trafficking. I think really profound and amazing results can come out of that.”
Talking to junior Grace Hathaway, it seems like Rosen’s excitement was very much justified. Hathaway said: “I am just so grateful to have this new issue presented to us. It gives us something new to focus our efforts on. […] I am so glad that this topic is being brought to Principia. I can’t think of a better environment for these ideas to be received and really worked with and taken somewhere meaningful.”
Senior A.J. Kiser shares Hathaway’s excitement about a new focus on prayer. He said: “Having the speakers here discussing their own lives made a big impression on me. It brought the issue to my home […] and allowed me to relate to the mission through the speakers and their efforts healing the problem in this world. I have been thinking more about prayerfully supporting their work to bring healing to the whole issue.”
Of course, the topic of human trafficking in and of itself is horrifying. None of the speakers tried to downplay the fact that human trafficking involves rape, murder, abuse, humiliation and exploitation of the worst kind. At the same time, however, it was fascinating to observe the speakers’ positive and hopeful perspectives on this topic. Even though human trafficking is one of the biggest crimes against humanity, this year’s PAC still found a way to foster hope and a positive outlook on the future. Senior Mollie Mangelsdorf said: “I loved how optimistic they were. They were not bogged down by this huge issue, they were only looking to the future and focusing on the people they were saving.”
Dunlap shares this respect for the speakers and their unwillingness to not give up: “All of the speakers that we heard from, who we would call heroes, even though they don’t call themselves heroes, risk their lives on a daily basis to do what they do, and there can’t be any self or ego involved in that. They’ve shown a complete dedication to living their lives for others, a complete service to mankind, a complete service to the citizens of the world and to God; a completely selfless life.”
Dunlap also realizes how much her own sense of the conference’s importance changed throughout the conference itself. She said: “For so long the focus was on the conference and getting the conference to work, to run smoothly, to be effective, and to get all of the speakers we wanted. […] And now that the conference is over, I am realizing that the conference was really just the kick-off, it was just the start of the movement for freedom in the world. This was just the beginning step.”
Principia has a healing mission, one that is not easy to handle. Kiser is convinced that liberation of from human trafficking starts on a spiritual level: “Only the material man can be attracted to the flesh. So, if man is spiritual, then he has spiritual desires, goals and attractions. And knowing that about man does not leave room for this concept of man wanting to dominate another person for the purpose of sex or labor. Man is liberated from those attractions to the flesh, because he is spiritual.”
Principia College has found inspiration to focus its prayers and to make a difference in the world. In many ways, Mangelsdorf summarized this feeling when she said:
“[The speakers] are all regular people, and sometimes when I look at all the issues in the world, it is overwhelming and I feel like I am only one person. How can I make a difference? [But] seeing all these examples and hearing these stories from girls they have saved from this awful life has just been so inspiring. We can do it. We do have a power to bring a change.”