Christa ran away from home when she was 19. Soon after, she met a man who swept her off her feet and moved in with him three weeks later, even though she knew the man worked for a pimp.
Just months later, she was sold off by her lover to his pimp to be a prostitute on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
“Most women who are trafficked come from horrific backgrounds. I am the statistic. The statistic that I beat is that I am alive,” Christa said to an audience of FIU students gathered in GC 140. “Most women don’t get to share this story, not that anyone would want to.”
Christa tearfully shared the degradation and abuse she experienced. Her firsthand trafficking survivor account was a part of Freedom Week, an effort to raise awareness of human trafficking – both locally and globally – and help students take action.
“I can’t fathom what these girls went through and I wanted to know more about the issue and make a difference,” said Laura Pomar, a sophomore biophysics major in attendance. “We need to stop the indifference. That indifference provides a reason for it to continue.”
Freedom Week was organized and run by FIU 4 Freedom, a network of volunteers and organizations founded in 2012 by Regan Kramer, who is on staff with the Wesley Foundation at FIU – a Christian student organization on campus.
Now in its third year, Freedom Week has seen a growing interest in people wanting to learn about human trafficking and get involved. Kramer hopes that momentum continues to build in the coming years.
“I know that God cares about the vulnerable and the oppressed in society so I want to use my time and energy to advocate for them,” Kramer said. “If I have the ability to speak, then I need to speak on their behalf because no one is speaking for them.”
Annette Miranda, a freshman nursing student who is part of the Wesley at FIU, was one of the students heavily involved in the planning and execution of the event. Between finding locations for the different events throughout the week, helping set up the various displays and finding out information about trafficking, it was an experience that helped embolden her desire to make a difference.
Miranda was shocked how much of an issue human trafficking is in Miami. According to the Department of Justice, South Florida is the third-busiest area for human trafficking in the United States, partly due to the large number of travelers that Miami attracts and the city’s booming tourism industry.
“Many people think it’s a global problem but it’s really something that’s happening right in our own backyard,” Miranda said. “We want to help people become more aware so that they can become involved.”
On March 17, the group created a makeshift club scene inside of a black tent called “Club Exxxposed” in the GC Pit, complete with murals, blacklights and a live DJ tailored to recreate Miami’s club scene. A closer look revealed stories of girls being trafficked locally, transcripts of text messages between traffickers and their victims, as well as facts and figures relating to trafficking in Miami.
The group then provided a stark look at the lifestyle of trafficked women and girls in third world countries, creating a walk-through brothel display in the GC lawn which told the stories of human trafficking victims around the world.
A number of local experts, from law enforcement officials to social workers, were brought in to discuss ways to potentially spot victims of human trafficking and how to respond, why girls can’t or choose not to escape, and how college students can make a difference.
“I’m hoping that students understand that they can make a difference and that they would use their vocations to make a difference,” Kramer said. “If they are a criminal justice major or a psychology major, I hope this inspires them to pursue an avenue where they can use what they’ve learned to make a difference.”
To close out the week, a group of about a dozen students met at FIU and split into two teams for a motel outreach, speaking with managers and owners of approximately 15 hotels and motels down Eighth Street and Seventh Street. It was an eye-opening experience for Miranda, who helped translate the group’s message and conversation for managers who spoke only Spanish.
Now that Freedom Week is over, Miranda and Kramer hope that students continue to seek ways to fight human trafficking.
“At first I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what to do. Now I know,” Miranda said. “If you’re motivated, go for it. Don’t feel held back.”