"When we hear the word slavery, we tend to think about the slave trade in the 19th century, however there are, in fact, more slaves today than there have ever been in history with 27 million men, women and children held in slavery today."
Kristen Medina, with International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights organization that rescues victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression, shared that statistic among others during an event Thursday night at the Havener Center on the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus.
And as Missouri S&T student Joel Hey put it, "Behind every statistic, there's a face."
Hey, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and member of the Christian Campus Fellowship, helped organize the event, which featured a young victim of slavery, who was forced into prostitution at a young age by her own family, who shared her story about how she found rescue in the U.S.
The speaker, Jessie, told a large crowd in the St. Pat's Ballroom that while her family may have looked normal to an outsider, from the inside, it was completely different.
"When I was just an infant, the abuse started … when I was six-years-old, I got introduced to pornography from my family. They told me it was my time to learn how to make money for them," Jessie said.
Jessie told the audience that she was forced to both watch and act in pornography. She was taken by family members to hotels and sold for sex to men. In exchange, her family would receive money, beer or drugs.
"The toll it had on me, I couldn't show any emotion whatsoever. If I showed emotion, it had to be what they told me, when they told me how to express it and how." If she showed any emotion besides those allowed, she was beaten or locked in closets.
"They wanted me to perform perfectly … There was never room for mistake," she recalled.
Jessie eventually sought counseling and when a counselor told her that there is help for her, Jessie said, "It was hard for me to believe because I spent my first 22 years trapped in this world that I thought was normal."
At that time, Jessie lived in Wyoming, which did not have a trafficking law at the time and she said the justice system failed her.
"That was my breaking point," she said.
Jessie learned about Mercy Ministries, an organization that helps women with sex trafficking among other issues. She went through the program there in 2011 and graduated from it in March 2012.
"It was the first time people had actually reached out to me and said, you're loved, you're valued. Apart from what you were told … you have value," Jessie said.
Page 2 of 3 - Through God, Jessie said she learned, "I am not who the world says I am … I'm not what people have done to me … I learned that I had a choice and choice was something that, when you're in that industry, you don't have.
"God is the one who rescued me and he used people in some areas to rescue me. I am free today," Jessie said, adding that she wants to spend the rest of her life helping others in similar situations that she has been through.
Jessie's story, along with stories shown in a documentary at the event of three others who were freed from slavery, proves that slavery still exists today and with a world population of about 6.9 billion, one in every 255 people is estimated to live in slavery today.
Hey and other S&T students and student organizations partnered with IJM to hold the event and help raise awareness on campus.
IJM, a Christian organization, has lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals who work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, prosecute perpetrators and ensure that public justice systems help protect those enslaved.
Hey said the idea to raise awareness about slavery came out of a speech class he was taking in which he researched the topic.
"This is the greatest injustice my generation is facing," Hey said. "It's one of the fastest growing criminal activities."
Earlier in the day Thursday, Hey and a handful of other S&T students stood outside the Curtis Laws Wilson Library on campus to raise awareness.
One of the students, Brooklyn Collins, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering, sat in a cage, which was roughly the size that many slaves are forced to live in.
Hey said by having Collins sit in the cage, it provides a visual element for people to see.
"It grabs your heart and your attention," he said, adding that when people don't see a problem, they ignore it.
"Once you've seen the darkness and evil and wickedness in the world, I do believe there is a hope and love and grace that can eradicate and triumph over this darkness," Hey said. "Just because it's not an easy fix and a quick fix, don't let that deter you from being a voice to this injustice."
Hey encourages people to lobby their politicians to support policies to end slavery and after Jessie's speech, attendees had the chance to sign petitions and write letters to their legislators and President Barack Obama.
On Friday, a fish fry was held at the Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike) fraternity house in Rolla, with proceeds benefiting the IJM.
In addition to Christian Campus Fellowship, other S&T student organizations involved in raising awareness include the Interfraternity Council (IFC), Student Council, General Delegation of Independents (GDI), National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH), Leadership and Cultural Programs, Student Diversity Programs, International Student Association and Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU).
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• An estimated 27 million slaves exist in the world and $32 billion is the estimated total market value of illicit human trafficking, according to the United Nations.
• After drug dealing, human trafficking, sex and forced labor is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today and slavery is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world today, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
• Worldwide, the commercial sex trade has 2 million children enslaved, according to UNICEF.
• Annually, about 600,000 to 800,000 children, women and men are trafficked across international borders and about 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Freedom, security and dignity secured by International Justice Mission (IJM) in the last 4 years:
• More than 2,000 children, women and men have been freed from slavery.
• More than 800 women and children have been freed from forced prostitution.
• More than 300 individuals have been arrested for trafficking-related offenses.
• Hundreds of widows and orphans have had stolen property returned to them.
• Thousands have received their entitled documentation of citizenship or elevated legal status.