The International Justice Mission Club at UC Irvine held the first Stand For Freedom event on April 17 in light of the nationwide fight against sexual slavery and trafficking. This event focused on the issue of modern day slavery, which currently affects an estimated 29.3 million people worldwide.
The event included a guest speaker, poetry reading and dance performances. The club also took donations for their cause and had home baked goods, shirts and wristbands that spelled out “SEEK JUSTICE.”
The International Justice Mission (IJM), the club that hosted the event, is “a human rights agency that rescues victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and oppression.” Other IJM clubs on different campuses across the country also took part in the Stand For Freedom event on April 9.
“Stand for Freedom — we’re holding it to raise awareness about human trafficking,” IJM Co-President Dristi Angdembey said.
“Even in the OC, human trafficking happens but most people don’t know about it.”
Angdembey emphasized the importance of awareness for their fight against modern day slavery, explaining the club’s long term goal. “We want to raise awareness about human trafficking happening locally, as well as worldwide.”
This event lasted an hour, from noon to 1 p.m. Angdembey expressed that her original wish for the club was “to stand up for 24 hours to represent, to stand for the 29.3 million people who are enslaved but we can’t do that on campus because of campus policies. We’re not allowed to stay for 24 hours. We tried but we couldn’t, so this is the second best.”
The IJM is a group that regularly collaborates with other organizations. Angdembey stated, “In the OC, we have this thing called OC Human Trafficking Task Force which works with the CSB community service programs and police departments and Anaheim, around Santa Ana, all the OC cities, and it’s pretty good. They’re doing a lot of good work. In between 2011 and 2013, they’ve served over 200 clients.”
These clients, victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, are then aided by such programs to create different futures for themselves, as these programs give men and women a chance at having new, independent lives.
“They’ve rescued them and gave them options on what to do. Most of these girls, they’re considered prostitutes because it’s not always clear who is being trafficked or not and the case workers, people at the task force, along with the police workers, they try to see how to help them,” Angdembey said.
She explained the reality of the situation for girls trapped in the trade. “Most of the people in the sex trade are not there voluntarily. They say they are but they are coerced to doing it and that is basically what human trafficking is, forcing someone to do something that they don’t want to do. It’s basically modern day slavery.”
When asked why Angdembey was so passionate about this cause, she gave her raw and personal reasons: “I have been in this campus chapter for three years now. I’m originally from Nepal. Human trafficking is a big issue there and growing up there, I would always hear about people getting coerced, people in the villages. I would always hear stories, mostly girls, getting duped into prostitution and brothels, or people getting kidnapped. Growing up, I’ve always wanted to do something related to social justice and since human trafficking hit so close to home for me, I want to help.”
Angela Simmons is a third- year UCI student that attended the event. She pointed out, “This conversation needs to happen and people need to be aware that slavery isn’t over and human trafficking does exist. A lot of people are oblivious to it and turn a blind eye to it … There are steps that I can take personally into helping; it’s easy to think that I’m just one person and I can’t do much but I feel like these kinds of events help me realize that I am one person but everyone is. If that one person steps up then it’s a domino effect and more people can come out and show support.”
The two performers who danced and sang for the event were members of the Ballet Folklorico club. Nayeli Correa, a fourth-year and the vice president of the club, expressed the importance that performance has to a big cause such as Stand For Freedom.
“I think performances bring a sense of hope because any time I perform, I’m really happy but I’m also hopeful about the energy that I’m trying to transmit to the audience. Sometimes you just have to keep smiling,” she said. Mariam Iskajyan is a member of the on-campus UNICEF group.
“I’m a firm believer of human rights and human dignity. A lot of these issues are not just charity issues or just affecting other people… These are social and economic injustices that shouldn’t exist. I think that it’s my social responsibility as a global citizen to really make sure that these things aren’t happening,” she said.
IJM meets every Monday from 5 to 6 p.m. in Humanities Hall 226. Anyone interested in their cause is welcome to attend the meetings.