Editorial: Sex trafficking in Baltimore: why Hopkins should do more

October 20, 2016

The new student group JHU Breaking Chains held its first event, a film screening of the documentary Very Young Girls on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Breaking Chains is dedicated to the fight against sex trafficking, which is a particularly serious problem in Baltimore.

The group’s mission statement on Facebook explains that it is “a student-led anti-human trafficking organization whose mission is to aid survivors of human trafficking in pursuing their life goals” and to “break some of the barriers survivors may face in their pursuit of happiness through basic life skills classes needed to successfully live in and contribute to society in a meaningful, dignified way.”

Following the model set by the local organization Safe House of Hope, they plan to hold Basic Life Skills classes for victims of sex trafficking, some of whom are exploited as early as nine years old.

The group uses its funding from the Center for Social Concern (CSC) to fulfill this service-oriented mission statement, but they also emphasize advocacy and awareness independent from this funding.

These goals are commendable in any context, but they are especially important in Baltimore because of the local severity of the problem and also because Breaking Chains is one of the first student-run group in the nation to dedicate itself to combating human trafficking.

Maryland, and Baltimore specifically, is a hub of sex trafficking because it is centrally located enough for it to be both a destination and a “pass-through state,” according to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF).

Highways like I-95 provide easy access to cities like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York and beyond. Furthermore, the highway itself brings trafficking risks since data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) suggests that almost three-quarters of human trafficking incidents in the U.S. occur at rest stops.

The proximity of major airports also contributes to the problem because, according to the MHTTF, people visiting town and staying in a hotel for only a few days will be more likely to engage in illicit sexual activities than permanent residents.

The Editorial Board commends Breaking Chains’ effort to spread awareness about the dangers and prevalence of sex trafficking, which is something not often discussed on college campuses and yet clearly has a major effect on the Baltimore community.

They have been holding Street Outreach Training and planning for a February event called Care Packages of Love that will collect supplies for women who visit Safe House of Hope. It is wonderful that they can collaborate with preexisting organizations like this, and hopefully they will also be able to partner with other student groups on campus, like SARU or Hopkins Feminists.

The group’s focus on the Baltimore-specific aspects of sex trafficking also fits in with the broader goal of getting students more involved with the Baltimore community.

Ideally, the presence of this group can also motivate the University to take a more proactive role in combating sex trafficking; in particular, Breaking Chains could coordinate with the Bloomberg School of Public Health to share information about the public health repercussions of this horrible practice.

This is a major issue with disproportionately little public awareness, so Breaking Chains is a valuable addition to both the Hopkins and the Baltimore community.

At the same time, trafficking is very widespread, and it requires many different methods to combat it, from law enforcement to medicine to reeducation. Therefore, the Editorial Board hopes that Breaking Chains can continue to fulfill and expand its mission by exchanging ideas and help with an increasing number of local organizations of different kinds.

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