EPEC, Shepherd work together to feature Human Trafficking Awareness Month events
SHEPHERDSTOWN — On Jan. 30, Shepherd University students and faculty members gathered in the Robert C. Byrd Center auditorium to watch the human-trafficking documentary, “I Am Jane Doe,” in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
The event was sponsored by the Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center, which held a question-and-answer session at the end of the documentary. The documentary itself was selected by the Office of Social Equity, Inclusion and Title IX to be played at both this year’s and last year’s showings in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month. According to Office of Social Equity, Inclusion and Title IX graduate assistant Madi Welder, the true stories shared in the documentary had disturbed students who have viewed the documentary in the past.
“I’m going to give you all a trigger warning that this is a very heavy film that can be hard to watch,” Welder said. “So if at any time you feel like you need to put your head down or walk out, please do so.”
The documentary featured the story of three American families whose young teenage daughters–ages 13, 15 and 15–were forced into human trafficking. Each daughter had been advertised for sale online, through Backpage, a former Craigslist competitor. After their daughters were rescued and returned to them, the families sued Backpage for its role in their daughters’ human trafficking experiences. After a number of losses in the courtroom, one of the lawsuits finally led to Backpage being forced to take down its adult services section on Jan. 9, 2017.
According to EPEC director Katie Spriggs, showing the documentary is one way EPEC hopes to raise awareness of human trafficking.
“I think there’s still a skewed reality of what it is,” Spriggs said of Americans’ understanding of human trafficking. “It can literally be happening with someone walking around with us in real life. Human trafficking is a tactic of control, and is not obvious to those who don’t know how to recognize the signs that it is happening.”
According to Spriggs, the documentary tends to gets positive responses from its audience.
“We had a lot of questions after last year’s showing of it, and a lot of people were asking what they could do to fight human trafficking. A lot of people were asking about warning signs, how they could know if this was going on,” Spriggs said.
Along with watching the documentary and learning about how to identify human trafficking signs, Spriggs said another way community members can help fight against human trafficking, is by support EPEC, which helps people who are trying to escape human trafficking situations. Support can be given regularly, or through one of the organization’s regular fundraisers.
Some of Shepherd’s students will be helping EPEC host its Fourth Annual Sock Hope Benefit Dance and Charity Auction at Town Run Tap House and Community Pub on Feb. 21, from 6-11 p.m. Donations to the auction are also needed, and can be picked up by EPEC, by calling 304-263-8292. The fundraiser will feature admission with donations at the door, dance lessons with Check Happy Productions at 6 p.m. and live music performed by The New Rocketeers. Every $100 of donations will make it possible for EPEC to house a person/family in need in a hotel room for one night.