Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Freedom Walk Buffalo 2014

Photos By: Priscilla K

This Saturday, 124 attendees from across Buffalo, Rochester, and Southern Ontario, including students, families, and fraternities, came together for the 2nd Annual Freedom Walk Buffalo. Attendees arrived wearing orange, the color of freedom and the United Hands of Hope House. Attendees came to learn about human trafficking and to become a voice for the voiceless.  A grand total of $504.18 was raised for United Hands of Hope House!  

"You can only sell drugs once, but you can sell a woman or a man, 30 to 40 times a day, and keep selling," 
- Karen O'Hara

The morning began with our main speaker Karen O'Hara, who shared her personal story as an overcomer of human trafficking.  She then spoke to us about the importance of being aware that human trafficking can and does occur everywhere, including small towns and suburbs. As the founder and director of United Hands of Hope House, O'Hara shared how she works to provide recovery services to domestic female survivors of human trafficking.  During her talk, she also emphasized the need for drop-in centers and safe houses to provide safety and support to victims of human trafficking in Buffalo, New York.  A young human trafficking abolitionist also spoke to us about the prevalence of grooming that is happening online to youth, through social media, such as Facebook.

Our second speaker was Deputy Elizabeth Fildes, program director of the Human Trafficking Division of the Erie County Sheriff's Office. Before she presented, she prompted us to stand up and dance merengue with each other!  After that break, Deputy Fildes began her talk and spoke about her work in the field. Through her work interviewing victims of human trafficking, she has seen how many girls trapped in sex slavery had a previous history involving abuse and/or drug addiction.  After speaking about how victims of human trafficking come to be, she spoke about traffickers and how they are now utilizing online outlets to lure victims for later sales which can also utilize online websites.  However, we learned that something can be done on our part.  Deputy Fildes stressed the importance of grants and community action to help push legislation, which will overall help protect and provide services for these victims.

Our third speaker was Rochester Police Officer Moses E. Robinson.  Officer Robinson educated us on the realities of human trafficking in our area, on the relationship between gangs and human trafficking, and how the internet is being used to lure victims of human trafficking.  Officer Robinson told us how important it is to respect everyone, especially elders, and how each of us should truly appreciate the family we have because so many people our age don't have people they feel they can trust. The most important take-away from his talk was how interrelated gangs, drugs, lack of respect, and traffickers online are.  Just like the other speakers, he told us that we can help end this by being alert of what is happening around us, online, and of the resources available to help end the slave trade.

Following these dynamic speakers, there was a question and answer session where questions on legislation and how the thriving Canadian economy will increase human trafficking in Canada and Buffalo. Then, we headed outside to raise awareness of human trafficking in the community.  

It was a cold, cloudy, and windy day.  Despite the cold wind and gloomy sky, we were out there for a reason.  We were out there because victims of slavery were and are, in this very moment, being sold and purchased against their will, regardless of the weather.  Human trafficking occurs across the world every day and every night. With this in mind, our group marched outside with our signs and information cards, shouting chants for an end to human trafficking. We also passed out informative flyers on human trafficking to passing cars and bystanders. 

"Hey! Hey!
Slavery has got to go!"

"What do we want? Freedom!"
"When do we want it? Now!"

 A few of our signs did rip because of the wind, and some of us stood close to keep warm.  As we approached the main road, many supporters honked and we responded with hearty, "horas".  As the 5km walk came to an end, we took a group picture, raising one last voice in unison.  "What do we want? Freedom!"

A huge THANK YOU to all of you who came to the 2nd Annual Freedom Walk Buffalo to become aware of the unacceptable reality that is occurring in our community and to become an advocate for change!  Thank you for standing with us, braving the weather, raising your voice, and being a fellow to humanity.  To become more involved with fighting human trafficking, please check out the links below!

Human trafficking abolition organizations in Western New York / Buffalo :

For research and resources on human trafficking nationally and internationally, check out:

Call 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733)
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) is a national, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls and texts from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.

May God guide you as you join in the battle against slavery,

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