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A Path Appears: educating students on human trafficking

Sex trafficking and human trafficking, although typically thought to only occur in third world countries, unfortunately is a major problem in the United States as well. Trafficking, defined as organized criminal activity where humans are treated as possessions to control and exploit, is a modern form of slavery around the world.

At a screening of A Path Appears, a PBS documentary about human trafficking in the United States, Suffolk University students learned about some of the areas where sex trafficking and human trafficking are being fought. Amongst those cities are Nashville, Tennessee and our own city – Boston, Massachusetts. The film follows journalist Nicholas Kristof along with celebrities Ashley Judd and Blake Lively as they go on a path to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States.

In Nashville, Judd and Kristof visit Thistle Farm, a nonprofit organization which provides survivors with a range of services necessary to their healing as well as essential job skills. Here, viewers are thrown into the harsh reality of the lives of the women who have suffered trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. Interviews revealed that relatives abused some of the women when they were young.

One woman, Shana, remembers being sexually abused by her grandfather. She continues her story, stating her mother sold her to a pimp at the age of 12. Shana’s story reflects how some of the other women came about being trafficked. One was introduced to oral sex at the age of 6, when her mother encouraged her to “suck like a lollipop.” An amazing discovery as the film goes on is the fact that none of these women are even aware of the fact they are being trafficked.

Shana takes it upon herself to show Kristof and Judd the areas where trafficked women are still being brought. These women are forced to have sex with multiple men and are abused when they don’t bring the money their pimps require.

In Boston, Lively and Kristof visit My Life My Choice, a nationally recognized anti-trafficking organization. There viewers witness a woman discovering that her missing 15-year-old daughter, who she feared had fallen prey to a trafficker, had been sold through backpage.com. The daughter is found with the help of Kristof and survivor of sex trafficking Latiana Appleberry.

After the screening of this film, students were allowed to ask questions to guest speakers Latiana Appleberry and Robin Chan. Appleberry’s most influential moment was when she was asked why young girls aren’t able to escape their pimps. Her answer was shocking.

“Imagine being in a relationship,” she said. “Things are always good in the beginning and when something goes wrong, you tend to blame yourself, thinking of a different way you can change to be a better girlfriend or boyfriend. This is what pimps feed off. They know how to manipulate kids, especially at such a young age.”

She continued to explain that pimps use acceptance, love, and family as ways of gaining trust and continuous manipulation of the young girls.

Appleberry also told students to educate themselves on the topic and suggested they volunteer at My Life My Choice to make their voices heard. Chan echoed his support of the organization as well.

Nicole Mastunami, a Suffolk University senior, said “‪I was really shocked after watching A Path Appears because it really opened my eyes up to human trafficking and how big of an issue it is all around the world.”

Elena Jacob, a sophomore at Suffolk, had a similar reaction.

“My reaction was really emotional,” she said, “I think we can all relate to this. Maybe not to the same extent as the people in the movie but we all know what it feels like to be vulnerable and taken advantage of. These people are average people; it happens all the time whether we want to admit it or not. Everyone knows someone who has been a victim of sexual assault, whether they have spoken up about it or not, or even realized it themselves.”

Overall, the movie created an impact. It was educational and promoted the fight to gain resources in order to better help those who are still out on the streets. A Path Appears is a great first step to learning about this very problematic issue in the U.S.

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