Today's post will be the first in a series concerning the ever-present tragedy of human trafficking.
Before we get to that topic, please let me introduce my cousins, Lucy and Rosemary Mahaffey:
February 25, 2012
By Caitlin Schudalla
NORMAN, OK — Most people can recall an instance in which they first became aware of a statistic or fact about modern human rights violations. It likely inspired sadness, anger or despondent indifference, though, for a precious few, it might have inspired action.
Twin sisters Lucy and Rosemary Mahaffey, both seniors at Norman North High School, are among those few, and together they founded a school club called Helping Oklahomans Prevent Exploitation, which is dedicated to raising awareness about human trafficking in the United States and garnering support in the fight to end it.
“We started the organization three years ago, as sophomores, but we had been aware of the existence of human trafficking for about five or six years,” Lucy Mahaffey said.
Forced labor and prostitution have been a part of human existence since the dawn of civilization, but very few people are aware of this thriving underground trade in today’s world, much less in the modern United States.
Perhaps most shocking of all is the state department’s listing Oklahoma as one of the nation’s top four states with a large human trafficking market in 2003. The market is dominated by child sex trafficking both in Oklahoma and the U.S. as a whole.
Both students first found out about the problem when they watched the bonus features of the 2006 film “Amazing Grace,” directed by Michael Apted, which dramatizes the abolishment of the slave trade in the British Empire.
“In school we were taught slavery ended in Europe and the U.S. in the 1800s. When I saw the DVD’s feature on modern slavery, my jaw dropped; I was freaked out,” Lucy Mahaffey said.
Following the references listed in the DVD, Lucy Mahaffey researched forced modern labor and prostitution and said she was horrified to discover its international presence and magnitude.
“We watched ‘Amazing Grace’ as a family, but Lucy really drew our family and me into the feature about modern slavery,” Rosemary Mahaffey said.
For both sisters, the driving factors for launching H.O.P.E. was the young age of victims of sex trafficking and the trafficking market’s existence in their home state.
“I’m 17; most of the girls are 12. They’re in the same age range as me and my sister, which really brings it home,” Lucy Mahaffey said.
Her sister agreed, saying “It could be any of our friends, it could be anyone around me. A lot of human trafficking happens in places that are geographically helpful, and Oklahoma is one of those because it’s central and has a lot of highways which intersect.”
In spite of an initial reception which was less than enthusiastic, Lucy and Rosemary Mahaffey, the club’s president and vice president, respectively, collaborated to begin H.O.P.E., which currently has between 20 and 40 active members and approximately 90 members on Facebook.
Because human trafficking is largely unknown, H.O.P.E.’s main goal is to raise awareness in a way which high school students will find “tangible,” according to Lucy Mahaffey.
“As a whole, my high school has about 2,700 kids, which is about 15 to 20,000 victims of slavery per student. We give students these numbers so they know how big it is, but we try to keep the focus on how they can help end it,” Lucy Mahaffey said.
In the fight against trafficking, H.O.P.E. promotes the buying of fair trade products (as indicated by the label), especially cocoa, sugar and coffee, whose producers have been widely accused of exploiting laborers.
The club has also conducted fundraisers through the high school and the Norman community, with activities like fair trade chocolate sales for Valentine’s Day, T-shirt sales and club sponsorship nights at area restaurants, including Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler, Classic 50’s Drive-In and Interurban.
Through the sisters’ hard work, the club’s fundraising and community awareness events have been so successful as to gain statewide renown earlier this month, when Lucy Mahaffey was one of four “Distinguished Finalists” in the Oklahoma Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
In the future, both sisters plan to study music in college and hope to continue and expand their work in serving victims of human trafficking by translating their shared passions into therapy and rehabilitation.
“My dream is to open a shelter for underaged victims of forced prostitution in Oklahoma. There’s a shelter currently operating in Oklahoma City, but it only has eight to 10 beds, and there are hundreds of active cases right now,” Lucy said. “Rehabilitation is a huge part of this need because the process takes about three years, and, because of limited resources, there’s a high attrition rate.”
Overall, the sisters’ and H.O.P.E,’s message is one of empowerment and responsibility.
“The best thing any community member can do is be aware and get educated, and try to make others aware so they can report or prevent it,” Rosemary Mahaffey said.
“I always tell people, if you can eat, shop or talk, you can end modern slavery,” Lucy Mahaffey said.
Caitlin Schudalla 366-3541 firstname.lastname@example.org
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