UConn Hartford's Walk for Freedom: raising awareness of sex trafficking

Students and community members held up posters with human trafficking statistics to inform individuals in West Hatford on Saturday, Oct. 15. (Sarah Al-Arshani/The Daily Campus) 

In an effort to raise awareness about human and sex trafficking, the newly formed Students Opposing Slavery club at the University of Connecticut’s Hartford campus hosted its first Walk for Freedom on Saturday.

Close to one hundred undergraduate students, School of Social Work graduate students and community members marched through West Hartford Center dressed in black with tape across their mouths, while holding posters with statistics and handing out fliers.

Walk for Freedom was also a fundraising event for victims of sex-trafficking, with proceeds going towards Abolishing Injustice in the 21st Century (A21), a global nonprofit nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works to rescue and assist trafficked individuals. Donations are still being accepted and the group has raised approximately $5,000 out of their goal of $20,000.

Third semester English and political science major Alexandra Ferris founded the Students Opposing Slavery club this year, and coordinated the walk. Ferris gained an interest and passion for raising awareness for sex trafficking from a very young age and feels obligated to work for the cause. She believes that a change in culture and view of sex trafficked individuals is necessary for progress.

According to Ferris, the walk was intended to educate the community about the realities of sex trafficking. She believes that a majority of people don’t realize that it occurs in towns and cities all over the United States just as much as it happens abroad, citing that of the 27 million trafficking victims globally, 300,000 girls are trafficked in the United States annually.

“One of our main goals is individualizing the horrific nature of sex trafficking…when you can individualize it, it’s no longer just a statistic [27 million trafficking victims.] It’s personal and that’s when you can say ‘you can ignore it but you can never again say you did not know,’ she said.

“For me, I think my cause is that I can’t ignore it. I did my own research. I know it’s out there.”

Kailee Favaro, a trafficking survivor, attended the walk. She was excited to see community members taking part in educating others about human and sex trafficking and emphasized that it’s important for individuals to realize that it can happen anywhere.

“I love how many people are involved in spreading awareness and helping other survivors. I think it has a huge impact… the more that people know the more that people can help,” Favaro said.  

Participants took part in the event for a variety of reasons. After doing his own research on human trafficking, first semester School of Social Work graduate student Nelson Veras became interested in the event after friends discussed attending.

“I want the community to realize what we’re trying to do and I hope that more people come out next year… I think [the walk] makes people aware, it makes them educated so that they can come out and support and make a difference in the community,” he said.

First semester ACES major Gabby LaTorre participated after her UNIV 1800 instructor discussed the event in class. Latorre said she believes the event was a learning experience and a chance to become active in the community.

“I think it raises awareness for an issue that really needs to be well known,” LaTorre said.

First semester Psychology major Sydney Greaves echoes her sentiment.

“I think that going further it’ll help me recognize these things and help maybe future victims and provide services to people who may need help,” Greaves said.

I want the community to realize what we’re trying to do and I hope that more people come out next year… I think [the walk] makes people aware, it makes them educated so that they can come out and support and make a difference in the community
— Nelson Veras

Alongside participating in the event, Students Opposing Slavery treasurer and third semester international relations major Charlotte Ferris also volunteered at the event. She assisted in registration and organizing walkers.

For her this was a chance to set the groundwork for the club and the walk that she hopes to see occur annually. Ferris said she would also love to see the club expand possibly even starting on the Storrs campus. She hopes students in different majors can utilize their skills and training to tackle different aspects of the issue.

“The main purpose is awareness. So many people don’t know what a huge problem human trafficking in Connecticut really is,” Ferris said.

Sarah Al-Arshani is a Hartford correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at sarah.al-arshani@uconn.edu