The Student Ambassador Programme Team, Matt Humberstone and Liz Lowther, flew to Florida in January for the official US launch at the Center for the Study of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the University of Central Florida (UCF). The team attended and presented at a variety of events during Human Trafficking Awareness Month as the guests and partners of UCF and United Abolitionists.
The mission of the Student Ambassador Programme is to educate and empower university students on the topic of human trafficking and after substantial growth in the UK – now with an impressive network of 60 universities and over 300 Student Ambassadors – we were invited to the University of Central Florida to launch the programme for their US students.
We presented a leadership panel at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management on why and how students are targeted by traffickers, and how as Student Ambassadors they can get trained and start advocating for change, not only in their campus communities but also in their future careers. Some very impressive questions were asked in the closing Q&A session and at the end a student bravely stood up, asked for the microphone and revealed they had been trafficked at just five years old. Their moving story impressed upon not only the other students the importance of everything we had been just discussing but also upon Matt and myself and it was the perfect note to end our launch on.
Immediately following this, we all filed out of the auditorium to the beautiful campus fountain for the US Student Ambassadors’ very first challenge, the Red Sand event.
Red Sand Event
A red sand event is a symbolic art installation popular in the US where participants pour red sand into the cracks of the sidewalk to represent the individuals who fall through the cracks of society and who are often walked over.
Student Ambassador and Knights of the RELm President Sydney opened the event with a speech about the importance of hospitality students in particular knowing the signs of human trafficking and the substantial impact they can all have on the future of the hospitality industry that is unfortunately a large player in hiding human trafficking victims.
Student Ambassadors Annastazia, James and Daniel arranged for various campus services and victim support organizations to be in attendance with stands around the fountain so that the students could discover who they can go to should they ever themselves need help.
With a student body of nearly 70,000 students, the campus services at UCF are an essential part of the student community and it was refreshing to see how close the relationship between staff and students is.
Human Trafficking Conference at Valencia College
On Thursday, we were invited to attend the 16th Annual Human Trafficking Conference hosted by United Abolitionists and held at the Valencia College of Public Safety in Florida. Valencia College trains the next generation of firefighters, law enforcement, corrections, security officers and homeland security and the Executive Dean, Dr Jeff Goltz, has designed a pioneering and victim-centered curriculum on human trafficking as these future frontline professionals will be in direct contact with not only the trafficked victims but the traffickers themselves.
Dr Marianne Thomas, an extraordinary survivor, expert in human trafficking in the US and founder of My Name My Voice, spoke passionately on the importance of survivors leading the fight and being involved and listened to at all levels. Her emotional story and eloquent skill in communicating the challenges and complexities around survivor healing were felt by all in the room and we were all left feeling a renewed call to action to collaborate together. I immediately designated my first task once I was back home in the UK to reevaluate the Student Ambassador Programme online training courses to ensure as many testimonies and survivor voices were appropriately presented and referenced as possible.
Brent Woody, Lead Counsel and Executive Director at Justice Restoration Center for Trafficking Advocacy, delivered a fascinating and eye opening speech on his work to expunging victims’ criminal records and survivors right there in the conference audience stood up and thanked him for his efforts with their particular cases.
Dr. Roberto Hugh Potter is an influential professor and Sociologist at the University of Central Florida and he presented on the importance of research and evaluation when communicating and legislating around human trafficking.
We were introduced to Doug Gilmer, a veteran of over 35 years of law enforcement and now a Certified Human Trafficking Investigator at the Center for Countering Human Trafficking. Doug was instrumental in producing and delivering the Homeland Security Blue Campaign, a national public awareness campaign in the US designed to educate the public, law enforcement, and other industry partners to recognize the indicators of human trafficking, and how to appropriately respond to possible cases.
Listening to the host of incredible experts speaking so passionately about coming together to collaboratively combat human trafficking was so inspirational and left us with refreshed motivation to raise awareness with our new network of international university students that this is taking place right in front of us in all our countries.
Polaris Star Awards
Our US visit came to an end with the Polaris Star Awards, a special evening hosted by United Abolitionists and the University of Central Florida that brought together the key players in Florida who are fighting against human trafficking. We were honored to open the evening with a 20 minute presentation on It’s a Penalty, the work we do with our global campaigns and showed a preview of our brand new airline video for the Super Bowl LVIII campaign taking place in Las Vegas just the following week. We shared about our Student Ambassador Programme and how students need to be involved in the fight against human trafficking, not only as future industry leaders and responsible citizens but also to be protected from becoming victims themselves. It was daunting to talk in front of a room of such intimidatingly impressive people but all were very receptive to our speech and many approached us after to learn more.
Trophies were awarded to experts and survivors in the room who had all accomplished profound feats not only rescuing and supporting survivors but also in prosecuting the traffickers. Laura Esquivel from Atlas Free, one of our key funding partners, shared a moving story of meeting young victims in Nepal and how Atlas Free have housed and supported them. Tania Andre, our interim US Operations Director and the CEO of The Mavuno Project won the International Educator Award for Human Trafficking Award for her work with the very poorest and overlooked communities who are being exploited and tricked with false promises of a better life.
Our trip to the US was short but intense and we are honored to have met so many important and inspirational figures leading the way against human trafficking in the US. I know both Matt and I left feeling more inspired than ever to continue working with our network of student ambassadors because it is only together and with the youth of the world that we will have a hope of eliminating human trafficking as a connected and global community.
We want to give special thanks to Jessica Wickey-Bryd, the Director of the UCF Center of Human Trafficking, for her kind and generous hospitality throughout our stay. Without Jessica and her amazing Knights of the RELm students, none of our trip would have been possible and we feel privileged to be working alongside them.
Written by Liz Lowther
Student Ambassador Programme Coordinator, It’s a Penalty