Wooden cut-outs of men, women and children circled a small area outside of the library on Tuesday. Some had photos of victim’s faces pasted to the heads, some held signs asking for help and decrying their situation. Binding them together was a paper chain with messages scrawled on them with colorful markers.
“Breaking the Chains,” a Pasco-Hernando Community College event, sought to shine light on the human trafficking issue. Florida is third in the United States, behind California and Texas, in the human trafficking rankings, according to the Clearwater Area Task Force on Human Trafficking.
Human trafficking, as defined by the anti-trafficking task force, is “the exploitation by force, fraud or coercion of vulnerable people — often immigrants — for forced labor, domestic servitude or commercial sex operations.”
With thousands of students, several hundred of whom roam the quad outside the library outside any given day, Campus Crusade for Christ wanted to reach out to them after PHCC chapter members were inspired to spread the word of the human rights violation after learning more about it at an annual conference.
“These paper chains here represent what enslaves people,” said Kathleen Kneiss, the group’s adviser and a student activities director. “Students can fill out the paper with what enslaves them — addictions, finances — and at the end of the event, we break the chains to symbolize ending human trafficking.”
Chains held vices from alcohol and smoking to watching too much television. The box filled up as students, teachers and administrators scribbled their addictions and turned them in.
Nearly 50 human trafficking organizations, like World Relief, student clubs, Christian churches and organizations, food vendors and other universities set up tables. Students could walk through an exhibit showing the horrors of human trafficking to receive a ticket to redeem for pizza.
“I hope college kids can come together, worship and raise awareness of this issue,” said Lisa Burch, the vice president of the PHCC Campus Crusade for Christ. “We have to stand up and make it a mission to fight against human trafficking.”
The event also welcomed speakers and Christian musical performers like Tampa’s Deshun Howard, Fort Myer’s Word of Life Worship Team and New Port Richey’s Benjamin Rupe.
While the music was playing and students snacked on pizza and cotton candy, they lined up to sign a petition through End Human Trafficking Now!
The petition was addressed to President Barack Obama, pleading for him to make the battle against human trafficking one of his priorities. It also described the large numbers of victims on the United States alone, 14,500 to 17,500 and that the crime is an international business valued at $32 million annually.
“There are always new people coming through PHCC,” Kneiss said, “so we plan to do this on a regular basis to get the word out.”