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More than Meets the Eye

Human trafficking is an issue more relevant in this area than people might think. Just ask Mackenzie Baldwin.

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Upper School History Teacher Ms. Cindy de Leon sits in front of the large windows that make up two of the walls of her classroom. From her vantage point, she can see far beyond the confines of campus, all the way to the innumerable residential apartments and houses, businesses and restaurants.

With a sweep of her hand, she gestures across the familiar landscape, where thousands of people live, work, and play, and asks, “Are we so blind as to not think that one woman, one child over there has been or is being trafficked?”

Though such a thought is sobering, its implications are valid: Millions of people worldwide are forced into modern-day slavery, and Texas is the number two state in the nation when it comes to human trafficking.

While it is a topic that often slips under the radar, surpassed by politics, disease and other concerns, students had the opportunity, through the riveting message of Chapel speaker Ms. Mackenzie Baldwin, to realize how relevant and pertinent the issue of human trafficking could be in their own lives as well as how they can participate in the fight against it.

Students in grades seven through twelve, along with interested parents, heard from Ms. Baldwin, a young woman who, five years ago, almost became a victim of human trafficking.

As a Senior in high school, Mackenzie lived a life similar to those of the Upper and Middle School students who listened to her message. She worked at the Sonic Drive-in directly across from Prestonwood Christian Academy, went to church at Parkway Hills Baptist, hung out with friends and tried hard in school.

But, then, everything changed.

Bored one day, she logged onto Omegle, a social media site used by many students she knew and struck up a conversation with a stranger named Adam.

She continued talking to him every day for over two years, friending him on Facebook, texting him and video-calling him. Over time, he psychologically manipulated her into falling in love with and solely depending on him.

“As I continued my relationship with Adam, my connection with my friends, my family and my faith all deteriorated. All I had left was him,” Mackenzie said.

Upon Adam’s request, Mackenzie secretly began making plans to travel to Kosovo, where he lived, to marry him. When her parents found out, they contacted the FBI, who informed the family that, most likely, Adam was part of a human trafficking scheme, attempting to lure her in for money.

Mackenzie said, “I have no idea what might have happened to me if I had gone like I planned. Where would I be today? Would I have seen my parents, brothers and friends again? Would I even still be alive?”

Many students, before hearing Mackenzie speak, were skeptical, wondering how someone could so easily be preyed upon. But after listening to her story, they better understood the trap that can lead to such a crime, sparking insightful discussion in classes, hallways and the lunchroom afterwards about situations they had been in and ways to combat it.

Through Chapel, an avenue was opened for discussion about human trafficking and its pervasiveness even in areas close to home where twisted greed and perverseness of members of society have allowed it to take root.

The North Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking has done extensive study on the issue and found that Texas is an extremely high-risk area when it comes to trafficking. The coalition said, “Texas attracts trafficking because of its highways, its border with Mexico and international airports.”

Additionally, research done by the University of Texas found that over 300,000 people are trafficked in the state, in both the sex and labor slave trades. In Texas, trafficking usually occurs, not as a result of kidnapping, but rather through social media connections, friends and often the vulnerability of runaway children.

“They don’t believe that a child or woman or man is intrinsically valuable, so they sell them. It’s not like it hasn’t always existed, but it has been exacerbated because of technology – the criminals are pretty savvy. Perhaps, we have seen such a sharp increase in trafficking because, despite the claims of many, we really don’t value life like we have in the past,” said Ms. de Leon.

Even with the prevalence of human trafficking, there are things that ordinary people can do to combat the horrific crime that is human trafficking.

“Step one in the fight against trafficking is this: don’t ignore the issue,” said Ms. de Leon.

People can make a difference simply by being aware of the people around them, taking notice when situations or behavior seems odd.

“A lot of it is instinct. If I am at Buc-ees, I might see a family, and they just don’t gel right. Maybe they look scared,” Ms. de Leon said.  “Part of it is the fact that we’ve isolated ourselves– everyone’s a stranger. Take notice of people. How do we know the people we hire to clean our homes aren’t also being trafficked?”

People can also get involved in their churches and organizations, like New Friends New Life and the International Justice Mission, to help ensure that there is a refuge for people looking to escape trafficking-vulnerable situations.

The important thing is to stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves.

“The victims of trafficking are made in God’s image, and thus they have intrinsic value,” Ms. de Leon said. “At its most basic, we have to understand we have to live what we believe.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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