Over 600 professionals, community members, faculty, staff and students gathered at Colorado State University to participate in Northern Colorado’s first annual Human Trafficking Symposium on Feb. 22.
The day-long symposium, held in the Lory Student Center, was a crucial first step in promoting awareness of human trafficking and provided professionals access to knowledge and resources to combat the crimes.
Topics of breakout sessions held throughout the day included the economics of sexual exploitation, ending demand, human trafficking laws, incorporating human trafficking into academics, and what parents and others can do to prevent trafficking.
“This is a challenge that demands our attention,” said Rick Miranda, CSU provost and executive vice president. “Today cannot only be about story-telling and educating; we need to leave here knowing what steps to take and how.”
Finding a good fit
The symposium focused on explaining various aspects of combating human trafficking and the roles people can play in helping end it. A “Find Your Lane” keynote presentation encouraged participants to explore their skills and find what areas of the cause they are best suited for.
“The areas that people want to help in are not always needed,” said Jeremy Vallerand, president and CEO of Rescue. “There are new nonprofits opening every day, but they don’t realize that the same nonprofits are already in their area. Being educated and finding what is needed through research and communication is the most important step before jumping in somewhere.”
The featured keynote speaker, Rebecca Bender, is a survivor and nationally recognized expert on human trafficking.
“This symposium is so important because I didn’t even realize that I had been trafficked until I attended a similar awareness event many years ago,” said Bender. “I have never seen an event this size, with such advanced and in-depth content presented to such a diverse audience.”
Bender is the founder and CEO of the Rebecca Bender Initiative (RBI). RBI’s advanced training has been used by the FBI, Homeland Security, former President Jimmy Carter, local law enforcement, medical professionals, service providers and faith communities across America.
Bender was traded and sold to three different traffickers over the course of six years before she was able to escape with her daughter. She then returned to her small hometown and began looking for services to help her recover from the traumatic experience.
“There weren’t really any services for me to access in my small town,” said Bender. “I realized that I couldn’t be the only one that needed help, and if I can get a master’s degree online, I can help other women who are searching for resources online, too.”
Her foundation’s program, Elevate Academy, is the largest online resource for survivors and has enrolled over 300 people. Elevate promotes deeper levels of healing, professional development and leadership skills.
“It is wonderful having an impact this big on a college campus today,” said Bender. “This generation is passionate about all social justice, not just human trafficking, and we need to provide them with the tools to do what they know is right.”
“There is a quote that hangs in our office, and it is not just for those who come to see us, but to remind us what is important every day,” said Vallerand. “It is not the injustice that drives us, it is the magnitude of hope.”