by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It boils down to this, Jennifer White told her Bethel College convocation audience Oct. 3: “Pimps are lazy.”
White was the second speaker in a week when Bethel students were asked to wrestle with the reality of human trafficking in the world and in south-central Kansas.
In an earlier convocation, Sept. 29, Kevin Austin outlined the scope of the problem. Austin, a mission associate with Free Methodist World Missions (Free Methodists are rooted in U.S. abolitionism), is based in Seattle and works with the Set Free movement, which aims to end “modern-day slavery.”
There are at least 30 million slaves worldwide (he defined slavery as “being forced to do whatever you’re doing against your will”), trapped in either sex or labor trafficking, he said.
There are more slaves in the United States today than there were at the time of the Civil War. Kansas, center of a fierce abolitionist movement during the mid-19th century, now has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the country.
White’s presentation emphasized the latter reality as she described her own experience founding ICT SOS in Wichita.
The organization began with a story in the Wichita Eagle that described “the case of a pimp and a john, a seller and buyer, where the ‘product’ was a 13-year-old girl,” White said. “I resisted reading this for several days. When I finally did, I sat and cried. It was a gut-check moment. One of my daughters was 12 at the time.”
She had to get involved, White said. She called the Wichita Children’s Home, one of the main organizations that reaches out to runaway youth, prime targets for sex traffickers. White decided to organize a donation drive to help WCH’s efforts, and gave it the Twitter hashtag #ICTSOS (“ICT” is Wichita’s airport code).
Today ICT SOS’s energy goes to partnerships with local organizations, like the children’s home, that “are already going great work,” said White. “We want to help fill the gaps, the needs they have.”
Bethel College senior Mallory Black, Wichita, is also involved with ICT SOS, and introduced White to her fellow students at convocation.
Black found out about the organization when White came to speak to her congregation, RiverWalk Church of Christ in Wichita.
Then Black’s best friend from church asked Black to join her team for ICT SOS’s major annual fundraiser, Race for Freedom, a 5K run. Black did the race two years in a row and had planned to organize a Bethel College team for the 2014 event until a concussion following a traffic accident forced her to pull out.
She also volunteers at Carpenter Place, another Wichita organization that works with at-risk youth, especially young teenage girls, and which gets support from ICT SOS.
Black, a psychology major, just wants to be available for the girls to talk to, she said, because she has some idea what their lives might be like.
At 27, she is a single mother raising two children, ages 4 and 7.
“[The girls] can come talk to me,” Black said. “I’m able to say, ‘Your past life can suck but it’s up to you to change your future.’
“I want to show them you can make your future rock. You can control it – you don’t have to let the past hold you back.
“That doesn’t mean you forget it. You don’t have to be proud of it, but you can become a stronger person and move forward.”
Black is also organizing a drive on campus to put together “Fresh Start Bags” of clothing and toiletries that go to girls trying to get out of trafficking situations.
Black is a great example of the kind of things college students can do to combat human trafficking, White said. But it’s even simpler than that.
“Every single one of you can mentor or relate to a kid,” she said. “Pimps are lazy. They’re going to go after the kids who don’t have anyone paying attention to them.”
Austin’s answer to “What can a college student do?” were similar. He mentioned “sponsorship organizations,” where “someone sends $25 a month that allows a child to eat and to go to school and to be in a system that protects him or her.
“Don’t feel guilt or shame,” he continued. “Live your love, live to your potential, do whatever you do toward freedom.
“Consumerism is to blame for the breakdown of community [which is at the heart of why there is human trafficking], so learn to live with less. Ask good questions about where the products you buy come from.
“We are not powerless,” Austin said. “We can say kind words, we can do righteous acts, and we can repair the world.
“Use what’s been placed into your hands to do good.”
Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.