Students may have returned from their relaxing winter breaks and walked through the buildings of Montclair State University without noticing the blue, human-shaped cutouts. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many victims of human trafficking.
In support of January’s human trafficking awareness month, 30 blue silhouettes have been strategically placed in six different locations around campus, hidden in plain sight for students to walk by and hopefully notice.
The silhouettes are part of a campaign called #OutOfTheShadows, which has been organized by a new group on campus, the Montclair Interest Group Against Human Trafficking (MIGHT). MIGHT is currently working together to connect faculty, staff and students to research ways to prevent human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a complex topic which covers many different bases, whether it be for labor or sex. Trafficking deals with the exploitation and suppression of one’s individual identity in order to make a profit.
Each silhouette found across campus represents a real person that has experienced the horrors of trafficking and tells their unique story. Attached to each silhouette is a QR code that anybody can scan with their smartphone, which brings up each of the individuals and their stories.
MIGHT was created last March when Mimi Feliciano asked Montclair State the question that is currently trying to be answered: How can a university stop human trafficking? MIGHT’s goal of #OutOfTheShadows is to bring perspective to people on campus that the manipulation from traffickers can happen to anybody, no matter who you are or what your background is.
Kenneth Sumner, the associate provost for academic affairs and a professor in the department of psychology, helps run MIGHT, along with Faith Taylor, a professor in the Feliciano School of Business. Sumner and Taylor have worked to bring together a group that is not exclusively for faculty, but is also open to students who are interested and passionate about trying to understand the complexities of human trafficking and developing solutions that can potentially solve the problem.
Prior to MIGHT’s development in March, Taylor participated in last January’s human trafficking awareness month by using a Facebook live stream with Feliciano to bring awareness and educate the public about human trafficking.
In less than a year, MIGHT has expanded significantly with their #OutOfTheShadows campaign, which is leading up to the public viewing of a film called “Very Young Girls,” which will be shown on Wednesday, Jan. 29. The ideas in the film have changed the way that law enforcement deals with trafficking victims; instead of holding the victims accountable, the people who are trafficking others are being held responsible for their crimes and actions against their victims.
By working with the Office for Faculty Advancement, Sumner and Taylor have made it their mission to bring human trafficking awareness into the classroom in ways that will get students engaged. Taylor has even brought her classes to the silhouettes to gauge their reactions and see how the campaign is working.
“Many of us on the MIGHT faculty have included [human trafficking] in our lesson plans. I was talking to my students and said to them, ‘I want you to go the blue silhouettes, look at them and tell me your reaction and we will come back and talk about this in class,’” Taylor said. “I have already gotten some people who are saying, ‘I did not know that this [human trafficking] was going on,’ so it’s really important to bring awareness.”
Other students were not aware of the campaign until it was pointed out to them. Alyssa Pezzolla, a junior English major, was not aware of what the campaign was, but thinks learning about human trafficking prevention is important.
“There are a lot of people who kind of ignore it and don’t keep up with that type of stuff, especially when you are in college,” Pezzolla said. “It’s important to keep people aware of what’s happening with stuff like this.”
In addition to educating people about human trafficking prevention, MIGHT has an emphasis on networking across the entire university.
“If someone has a need and someone has a solution, then as a university we can pull them together in a way that we know that the need is real, the solution works and hopefully we can help people,” Sumner said. “That’s another thing we are trying to get off the ground.”
As a volunteer group working in the university, MIGHT needs all the help it can get from students and faculty.
“We have certain things that we need to further research, so if someone wants to get school credit we need to research partners, training and education modules and develop targeted training that elementary, high school and college-level teachers can teach,” Taylor said. “Putting together the content and helping us do that is important and we do need help with these today, so if anybody wanted to volunteer to help that would be awesome.”
Kerry Nutile, a junior economics major, thinks having a group such as MIGHT on campus is very important.
“By bringing awareness, it can educate a lot more people of the issue,” Nutile said. “It can also be a reminder for college students to be more cautious when meeting up with people they meet online or making sure they are looking out for their friends in potentially dangerous situations.”
MIGHT’s main goal is to prevent human trafficking by talking more about it in classrooms so that every child will know the signs and risks of human trafficking.
“If you save one child, that’s huge,” Taylor said.
To get involved with MIGHT, visit their page on the Montclair State website https://www.montclair.edu/human-trafficking/. To report human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888.