The Montclair Interest Group Against Human Trafficking (MIGHT) closed their #OutOfTheShadows campaign on Wednesday, Jan. 29, with the public presentation of the film “Very Young Girls.” The film was followed by a panel discussion with human trafficking survivors to end January’s human trafficking awareness month.
The film, which came out in 2007, follows victims of human trafficking and brings attention to Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), an organization in New York City that works tirelessly to help provide victims with a better life. The film has made strides for bringing awareness and has helped change the way law enforcement looks at trafficking.
Following the film, Adriana Sanchez and Yolanda Rodriguez, two survivors and staff members for GEMS, spoke on a panel moderated by Mimi Feliciano and one of MIGHT’s faculty leaders, Faith Taylor.
GEMS helps roughly 350 victims each year and has many different departments available to help victims. Human trafficking is something that happens everywhere, which many people overlook. Sanchez said that this is a problem in and of itself.
“People think [human trafficking] only happens in a foreign country; it happens in your backyard. People are just now being aware of it,” Sanchez said. “It’s been happening for years, but it’s only now getting the attention it deserves.”
With questions led by Feliciano, Sanchez and Rodriguez gave insight on the grooming process that is used by the traffickers themselves to get victims to comply with them. They told the audience who is more likely to be targeted by these tactics and what the signs are that someone is a victim.
“You need to pay attention if a girl is a runaway homeless youth,” Sanchez said. “You have to ask questions, sometimes it’s a little invasive, but a little attention can go a long way.”
GEMS not only gives victims a place to recuperate after they have been trafficked, but also prides itself on getting the girls an education. The organization has a wall on display filled with GED diplomas and college degrees, and they are currently looking for volunteers to tutor girls in any subject.
Eun Suhhoh, a foreign exchange student studying business, attended the event and thinks the topic on human trafficking is necessary to learn about.
“[Human trafficking] is very interesting, it is good to keep aware of stuff like this that is happening,” Suhhoh said.
Katt Hoffman, a sophomore psychology major, was not aware of the event but was interested in GEMS.
“I think it can be a really confusing situation to come out of. Not only is your self-worth destroyed, but now you have to build a life up from complete scratch with almost no help,” Hoffman said. “GEMS can give [victims] that help and support and introduce them to resources and options they might not have even known existed.”
Sanchez and Rodriguez emphasized how GEMS is a judgment-free zone and the girls do not want pity, they want resources and help to get them back on their feet.
To get involved with GEMS, visit https://www.gems-girls.org. To report human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888.