MU’s ‘We the Women’ host screening of ‘Nefarious’ for human trafficking awareness

art by Hope Watson

art by Hope Watson

Grace Vance

As a part of a continuous quest to educate, challenge and empower people to create awareness for human trafficking, a group of MU students have come together to screen a showing of the movie “Nefarious” at 7 pm in Jessie Wrench Auditorium. Those attending will listen to a panel discussion featuring members from the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition who will talk about human trafficking and it’s prevalence in today’s society.
Ashleigh Atasoy, an MU student a part of Kappa Alpha Theta’s “We the Women” group to organize the event, said that her drive to create awareness for human trafficking is because “victims of the industry are predisposed to the issue”. While people like her are born into a middle class family, she said, millions of others are were born into less fortunate circumstances. While going to college is normal for citizens in the United States, she said, in some areas of the world, people don’t have the opportunity to make it to high school.
“I believe it is my absolute responsibility to advocate for these people. The only reason I am not a victim of the sex trafficking industry is because I wasn’t born into it,” Atasoy said. “Human trafficking preys on the vulnerable, but it’s a crime against us all. I think it is this realization that makes me passionate about the issue.”
For Atasoy, her drive to address the issue of human trafficking began in her sophomore year of high school when she met Nanette Ward, former co-chair of CMSHTC, for an event she organized with a few friends. They wanted a speaker to educate everyone on what human trafficking was as well as answer questions for the audience. Ward agreed to help, and has continued to be a part of various events with her ever since. Now retired from her board position at the coalition, she still remains an active member, while those a part of CMSHTC continue to work hard.
“We raise money and assist survivors and then we do extensive outreach and education on human trafficking but we also work to advocate for anti-trafficking legislation. We work to collaborate so that organizations throughout the community are aware and better equipped to be able to identify survivors, be involved in prevention, take the right steps to subdue suspect trafficking and everybody working together because there’s so many resources involved in the anti-trafficking world and in supporting victims,” Ward said. “It’s a topic. It’s an issue. It’s a problem. It’s a crime that touches many many aspects of everyday life. So collaboration is really key.”
Although she believes that the coalition has made a lot of positive change to Missouri with high demand for resources and education about human trafficking, she still realizes the existing cultural inclination of objectification and disregard for children. To combat this issue, she believes that education of the topic is important.
“It is absolutely critical to educate young people especially in the U.S. in our culture of sexualization, exploitation of children and the prevalence of child pornography and the demand by viewers and purchasers of child pornography, it is so important that young people understand their vulnerability and watch for signs, encourage them to have meaningful and healthy relationships and engage in meaningful activities and understand the dangers of social media [as well as] their role that they need to watch out for their friends,” Ward said. “If they see their friends engaging in something that they understand as risky or could be the signs of trafficking then they can step in. Oftentimes you and your friend [engage in things] the parents don’t see, so actually young people, peer to peer, are in the position to look out for each other.”
Hope Watson, an MU student working in conjunction with Atasoy and other peers in organizing the event, first began working with “We the Women” when Atasoy offered for her to work on the public relationship aspect of the campaign. She has since designed the logo for the event and helped think of how to promote the screening. Watson believes that her contribution to organizing the event is one way that she works to address the issue of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is an important issue to me, as it should be for every global citizen, because it is a crime against humanity that every human has a responsibility to stop,” Watson said. “Caring about this cause is claiming your personhood and demonstrating your reverence for the personhood of others.”
In addition to her work with “We the Women”, she has also promoted the importance of human trafficking awareness by participating in speaking events at other sororities in hopes of community involvement in this movement. She believes that this is the key to enacting new perspective on this issue.
“Raising awareness about human trafficking through this campus-wide screening and panel is a first step toward affecting change. We hope that this event will affect viewers in such a way that engenders a desire do something about this atrocious issue,” Watson said. “We would love to see this play out in a concrete way on campus and in the Columbia community. The panel plans to offer suggestions on how to get involved and we hope the audience will take these suggestions seriously.”
Considering the growing problem of human trafficking and how it impacts global, cultural and local aspects of the world, Ward believes that despite everyone’s different circumstances, people should learn to care and stand for those who are misunderstood.
“There might be individuals that work at hotels or might be washing dishes in the back of a restaurant. [We need to understand] that all human beings are important, and [we need] to watch ourselves from thinking because they’re doing some sort of manual labor or being in the service industry, even waiting on our table, whatever the case, that every human being has a story and a life that we need to value,” Ward said. “We have to be bold and we have to not be shy about it. We have to confront our culture, the pornography, the purchasing of sex and our attitudes about it. We really do have to confront it and not be afraid to talk about it.”
By Grace Vance
Art by Hope Watson