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Human Trafficking Symposium at NMHS

This is the pamphlet handed out to those who attended the human trafficking symposium at NMHS

This is the pamphlet handed out to those who attended the human trafficking symposium at NMHS

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Marcela Loaiza is one of thousands of women who have been sexually exploited and trafficked.

On Monday April 27, The Global Leadership Academy presented a Human Trafficking Symposium. The symposium was coordinated by Michelle Harle, Shalin Thomas, Karishma Khan, Jina Joseph and Alyson Perenne, and it’s purpose was to raise awareness on human trafficking.

At the event were four speakers who spoke of either their own experiences with human trafficking, ways to prevent it, or generally just how to be aware of it. These speakers were Holly Austin Smith, Captain Roman Hernandez, Jonathan Walton, and Rachel Lloyd.

In an interview, Smith explained, “There are so many images of victims of human trafficking that make them seem powerless or weak.”

She further clarified how traffickers will often “look for vulnerable kids who are looking for something.”

Smith says that she was targeted by a man who had painted a glamorous life for her and convinced her to run away with him. At the age of 14, she was forced into prostitution, but was thankfully rescued after 48 hours in Atlantic City.

Holly tells students that ever since she was trafficked, she has tried to enlighten people from around the world that child/sex trafficking still exists and even occurs in America.

“I’m hoping younger generations remove the stigma that comes with human trafficking. To not only raise awareness, but to have compassion.”

If you would like to learn more about Holly Austin Smith and her actions to prevent human trafficking, you can read her novel, “Walking Prey,” or follow her Twitter account at

Captain Donna Roman Hernandez was the second speaker, and she served 28 years as a former police captain. Now, she is the radio talk show host of Tough Justice. Hernandez explains that “sexual assault is least reported because of shame” and that “there is survivor-ship after victimization.”

She also tried to enforce the idea that online, we don’t usually know who we’re talking to. We go into these chat rooms or situations with strangers when we “don’t feel loved, have a low self esteem, are an outcast, and want to get out.”

Because of that, we seek help in other places with people we don’t necessarily know. She says to be more cautious of who you talk to or build trust with, or to avoid talking to strangers online completely.

Jonathan Walton –the symposium’s third speaker– is the New York City Urban Project Director of Inter Varsity, and graduated from Columbia University. Since then, Walton has acquired a creative writing major, and has published three books of poetry, some of which target human trafficking and the mistreatment of children.

Walton adamantly believes that humans were made to flourish, work, rule, and create, and that since we “all play a role in exploitation, (we should) all play a role in the freedom of it.”

He says that it takes more than just being aware and wanting to help, we need to take the initiative to actually do something about it. Which is why, with the help of a friend, Walton created the Free 500 at NY this summer. The program is open to anyone who wants to join, and it’s mission is to teach and inspire participants to feed and provide for others with the misfortune of living on the streets. The session is free, but the coordinators do ask that you still register so that they can know that you are coming. If you’re interested, you can learn more information here.

The final and keynote speaker was Rachel Lloyd, the founder of GEMS. GEMS stands for Girls Education Mentoring Services, and it’s goal is to help girls who have been victims of sexual exploitation.With a 70% success rate of getting people out of “the life” and keeping them out, it is clear to see why Lloyd was recognized as one of the 50 Women Who Change The World.

At the symposium, Lloyd spoke of her own personal experiences and said that there is power in sharing her story, and getting everyone to understand that “We are not all fragile and weak, we don’t all need to be rubbed and patted on the back.”

Often times, after girls escape the life, it can be hard for people to see them the way that they were before being subjected to the exploitation. Being trafficked is not a choice and it is something that happens close to home, which is why this symposium was so important.

Lloyd stresses that there is “Real worth and value in everyone even if society can’t see it” and how important it is to treat them as they deserve. They need not to be looked at like prostitutes or “sub human” but as the same humans they have always been.

Lloyd’s memoir, “Girls Like Us”, explains her story and how she got into the situation she did with her boyfriend. She says, “His father was a pimp and it still didn’t register for me. I didn’t see that the person I was in love with was a pimp, too.”

There is hope after the life, there are broader horizons and reasons to keep on moving forward. Lloyd enforces the idea that it doesn’t have to be something that destroys you for life. You “turn that pain into a passion; take what hurt you and flip it into love and something positive.”

If you would like to help make a change, participate in the Color Run on May 17, where all profits will be donated to GEMS. Also, the human trafficking hotline is 1 (888) 373-7888.

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Human Trafficking Symposium at NMHS