Students held candles to their hearts Monday evening at a candlelight vigil to raise awareness for sex trafficking. The event was sponsored by the University of Miami’s National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter.
The vigil was held in conjunction with Women’s Fund Miami-Dade and Stop Sex Trafficking Miami, as well as almost 30 other sponsoring organizations. It served as a pre-event for a screening of the documentary “Tricked.”
The film aims to gain a better understanding of the cycle of sex trafficking in America and includes the perspectives of pimps, trafficking victims, survivors and law enforcement.
“Initially I focused on social workers and young people who had been trafficked,” Director and Producer Jane Wells said. “I want it to challenge the idea that it’s a victimless crime and I wanted to dispel the myth that is very prevalent that girls who are selling sex are doing so voluntarily.”
To continue discussions on the issues of sex trafficking in America, the vigil also served as part of a 24-hour crowdfunding effort by Women’s Fund.
Women’s Fund is a non-profit organization within Miami-Dade County whose goal is to provide equal opportunity for all. It focuses on combating violence against women, supporting women’s health, economic security and leadership.
“The funds that we raise will go toward advocacy and fundraising,” said Anna Martinez, the director of philanthropy and creative strategies for Women’s Fund.
Donations are supporting “Everyone’s Kids: Everyone Gives,” a campaign against the trafficking of children, and will continue to be accepted after the 24-hour period is over.
The vigil and screening aimed to educate college-aged students on the reality of sex trafficking. There were around 30 students in attendance.
“Miami has the third highest rate of sex trafficking in the U.S. mostly because we’re so close to South America and the international airport has one of the highest entrances for the sex trafficking industry,” NOW’s president Maleeha Riaz said in an interview with The Miami Hurricane.
The project came about after Riaz, who was working as an intern with Women’s Fund, heard about the screening of “Tricked” on UM’s campus. She felt that holding a vigil, in addition to the documentary, would be a great way to raise more awareness.
“I want to get this campus involved in something bigger and help the community in Miami,” said Riaz. “Just being in the university, we have so many resources to give back to the community.”
After a few words from Riaz, Marilyn March, the executive director of Women’s Fund, and Wells also spoke. Then, students were asked to bring their candles to their hearts in a moment of silence.
“The candle is to bring light to the very dark subject of human trafficking,” March said.
March said many of the girls targeted for sex trafficking are young adults, and even children.
“One out of seven children run away from home,” she said in an interview with The Hurricane. “One out of three will be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours. The first step is awareness.”
Wells said that sex trafficking is an issue that many feel only happen abroad. The documentary pointed out that it is happening in America as well.
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of sex trafficking, I think of Eastern Europe and East Asia,” said Jude Jaraki, a sophomore majoring in physics who attended the vigil. “You’ve got to show them that it’s a lot more prevalent in America.”
Aside from raising general awareness of sex trafficking, the vigil aimed to urge students to be aware and keep their eyes open, as university-age students can be targets.
“My main subject was trafficked from a college,” Wells said. “She was targeted and trafficked by her pimp when she was a freshman at college, and she was still 17, so she was technically a minor.”
Flyers handed out during the vigil gave a list of warning signs to look for for those who may be a victim of sex trafficking.
- Injuries or other signs of physical abuse
- Branding tattoos that reference Money, “daddy” or a man’s name
- Controlling “boyfriend” or intimate relationship with an olderperson who is not age-appropriate
- Unexplained new items such as cell phones, jewelry and clothing
- Hiding computer, phone communications or details of whereabouts
- Chronic runaway
- Sexually explicit online profile
- Referencing sexual situations that are not age-appropriate
- Refers to trafficker/pimp and associates by familial ties such as daddy or family.
Sex Trafficking Hotline: 305-350-5567
Women’s fund Miami-Dade: womensfundmiami.org
Stop Sex Trafficking Miami: stopsextraffickingmiami.org