By Lauren Trumbull
Editorial & Features Editor
Nani Cuadrado, assistant professor in the PA program, is collecting gently used bras and a dollar from now until March 3. Students can bring the donations to room 105 in Gambet from Tuesday–Friday, 7:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Due to tariffs, shipping and other regulations, the bras must be gently used. Donating a dollar goes towards the shipping costs of sending the bras.
Cuadrado, along with Valley Against Sex Trafficking (VAST) volunteer Cat Rojas, is going on a mission trip to El Salvador in March. The two are partnering with Free The Girls, a nonprofit organization that aids women who were rescued from sex trafficking in El Salvador, Mozambique and Uganda, to sell bras in secondhand clothing markets. This allows the girls to re-enter the workforce and gain back some of their freedom. Due to a past of working in commercial sex, the landlords kick many of the women out; therefore, some of the money women make selling bras gives them the opportunity to buy land and build their own homes.
Free The Girls launched in Mozambique in 2011, and by February 2012, the organization was featured on CNN’s Freedom Project, causing donations all around the world to come flooding in. That year they shipped over 30,000 bras to Mozambique. Since then, they’ve collected over 600,000 bras.
VAST, on the other hand, became an official nonprofit organization in June 2015, and works to “eliminate human sex trafficking through trauma healing, cultural change and justice.” The not-for-profit puts together projects such as Communities Against Sexually Exploitive Business in order to make a change and remove human sex trafficking from the Lehigh Valley.
According to vast.ngo, “Sex trafficking is when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”
According to the article “Human Sex Trafficking” by Amanda Walker-Rodriguez and Rodney Hill on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website, sex trafficking is the “fastest-growing business of organized crime and the thirdlargest criminal enterprise in the world.”
In the U.S., the average teenage girl that enters the trade is 12 to 14-years-old and the average boys and transgender youth are between 11 and 13-years-old. These children enter sex trafficking from living on the street, coming from homes of abuse or abandonment, being abducted or through an agreement between the child’s parents and traffickers.
After women and young girls are sold to traffickers, they are locked up in brothels or rooms for weeks at a time. While there, they are drugged and sexually abused. Women are unable to escape because in many instances traffickers steal their forms of identification such as passports and birth certificates, leaving them incapable of fleeing.
Traffickers often play psychological games on the victims as well. Women and girls from broken homes are promised a family, marriage and love in an attempt to create a bond. This bond also makes it more difficult for a woman to escape.
On average, the U.S. receives about 16,000 international people annually for the purpose of trafficking. According to Free The Girls, sex trafficking generates $150 billion every year. About 98 percent of sex trafficking victims around the world are women and girls, and two million children annually are used in the global commercial sex trade.
In the Lehigh Valley alone, there have been 13 arrests for human sex trafficking in the past four years, and VAST identified 17 exploitive massage parlors, which is one of the main places sex trafficking occurs.
In El Salvador, men, women and children are forced to sex traffic in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Upon arrival and en route to the U.S., Salvadorans are also subject to sex trafficking. Many times, these women are “paying off their debt” to the men who transported them into the country.
To this day, their government does not meet the minimum standards to removing trafficking, and their definition of human trafficking is not consistent with international law. In an attempt to help the problem, the Special Law Against Trafficking in Persons took effect in 2015. This increases the penalty for human trafficking to 10 to 14 years in prison. Although El Salvador offers shelters for underage girls subjected to sex trafficking, it neglects to provide assistance for boys, adults and LGBTI victims.
People subject to trafficking are often physically abused and sexually assaulted. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, STDs and unsafe abortions. They are left malnourished, physically and mentally exhausted. To help change the life of these women and provide a better outcome for their futures, make sure to bring a bra to Gambet to help them gain back their freedom.