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University News

Out of the Shadows

Montclair State pop-up exhibition raises awareness on human trafficking

Posted in: Humanities and Social Sciences, University

Students in hallway reading exhibit plackards

A pop-up exhibition at Montclair State University is raising awareness on the global problem of modern slavery with bright blue silhouettes staged across campus bringing victims of human trafficking and their stories out from under the shadows.

The galleries tucked inside academic halls and lounges, in fact, hidden in plain sight as most victims of the crimes, are part of a month-long education and awareness campaign organized by the Montclair Interest Group against Human Trafficking (MIGHT). Addressing the intrinsic problems of human trafficking, the interdisciplinary MIGHT has made use of social media broadcasts and film, along with the interactive art exhibit, to share research, policy and activism to better understand the scope of human trafficking.

“Montclair State University has a history of supporting and being concerned about our communities and particularly those in need,” says Arnaud Kurze, assistant professor of Justice Studies, in a webcast featuring faculty research. “We want to understand and provide resources about solutions to human trafficking in all forms and shapes.”

According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry. It is one of the fastest-growing international crimes behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking. And while the vast majority of human trafficking occurs in the developing world, a surprising amount of trafficking and exploitation happens in the United States, MIGHT organizers say.

“We all like to think that this isn’t something that happens in our communities, but it can happen anywhere and is currently hidden in plain sight,” says Julissa Xajil, a Communication Studies major who participated in New Jersey’s Human Rights Institute.

The Montclair State freshman interns for the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking and managed the Instagram livestream of the institute’s event on January 11. “We need to educate each other on the issue of human trafficking so we are able to help put an end to it by identifying red flags, advocating for anti-trafficking legislation, and being aware of products that we use that could have been produced with trafficked labor,” Xajil says.

On the Montclair State campus, the MIGHT campaign is leveraging the “might” of University resources to address the complex problems of trafficking from policy to research to education and the arts. “This has been an incredible journey with so many people across the University who are helping us to create a program to solve human trafficking,” says co-chair Faith Taylor, professor of Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility/Sustainability.

close view of cut-outs and plackards
Viewers scan a QR code attached to each cutout to learn more about the victims.

Student groups set up of the pop-up exhibition, the secrets of the victims unlocked when viewers scan a QR code attached to each cutout. Narratives spill out of how they were trapped, some recruited with promises of jobs, all essentially slaves forced into prostitution, taken for their organs or forced into labor.

The visuals resonated with Jaylen Molina, a junior Business Administration major, who learned of the abuses while putting the cutouts in place during the Martin Luther King Day of Service. “You never know someone’s story, but we should sit and take it all in when given the chance to hear the experiences of others,” Molina says.

On Wednesday, January 29 at 11 a.m., MIGHT will present the documentary film, Very Young Girls, followed by a talkback with survivors in the School of Communication and Media’s Presentation Hall. The film follows 13- and 14-year-old African-American girls as they are seduced, abused and sold on New York’s streets by pimps, while being treated as adult criminals by police.

In the faculty research webcast, Danielle Peterka-Benton, associate professor of Justice Studies, explains that most people associate human trafficking primarily with such sexual exploitation. But there are many different forms of exploitation, she says, “whether it is labor exploitation, bonded labor, child soldiers and forced adoptions, anything basically you can utilize a human for to make money, as horrific as that sounds.”

Other events throughout January, included Facebook Live broadcasts on the business of human trafficking featuring Taylor and vice provost and MIGHT co-chair Kenneth Sumner. An interview with MIGHT co-chair Mimi Feliciano, founder and CEO of FEM Real Estate, and benefactor and namesake of the Mimi and Edwin Feliciano School of Business; and Tom Countermine, supervisory special agent for Homeland Security Investigations, brought viewers to the front line of human trafficking.

The MIGHT website includes personal stories to broaden understanding of the different forms and the extent of human trafficking in the United States and abroad. The Office of Faculty Advancement created a resource for teaching web site to complement and support the program.

Learn more at the Montclair Interest Group against Human Trafficking (MIGHT) website.

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