Gopika, Maguire Fellow in Austin and London

Gopika is a senior majoring in economics and political science in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship for summer 2014 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. She has internships with Refugee Services of Texas in Austin and Stop the Traffik in London.

The Last Stop

LastStopSummer has finally come to an end. London was an amazing experience. Getting to work with Stop the Traffik for the last two weeks was the perfect way to end the summer. I enjoyed getting to work with the Global and the UK STT team.

Stop the Traffik is a nonprofit organization dedicating to spreading awareness about human trafficking. They plan and create campaigns to help prevent human trafficking and raise awareness globally. Stop the Traffik has worked to provide information to the public so they can help prevent this heinous crime from happening in their country and around the world.

Stop the Traffik is currently promoting and working on three of their major campaigns: Chocolate, Fashion, and Tea. These three campaigns are to raise awareness that human trafficking could be going on in the chocolate industry, the fashion industry, as well as the tea industry. While in London, I was able to research the current anti-trafficking policies in the UK. The Modern Slavery Bill is one of the first and major steps in having policy passed to punish criminals of human trafficking.

The Modern Slavery Bill is a piece of legislation that is currently in Parliament. One of the major things that the bill pushes for is transparency in the supply chains of businesses. In other words, ensuring that the supply chains of different companies are checked and regulated to be free of any human trafficking or forced labor.

The chocolate, fashion, and tea campaign are linked to the Bill in that they promote transparency in companies pertaining to the campaign. Companies like Cadbury and Nestlé have bowed to the campaign by providing certified chocolate bars – traffik-free chocolate. The same idea is behind the fashion and tea campaign.

HOW WE CAN HELP:

As students or a young population, we often feel that the solution is out of our reach, especially for a crime like human trafficking. However, that is not true. There is definitely something we can do right now. There are many fashion firms, retail stores, chocolate companies, tea manufacturers around the world. All we need to do is let them know that we want traffik-free chocolate, fashion, and tea.

One great way is by simply sending a postcard from Stop the Traffik. Let the company know that you want traffik free chocolate, fashion or tea. By clicking on this link http://www.stopthetraffik.org/take-action, you can find many ways to help. The time to do something is now. Many of us have only heard of the rescue story, but why not prevent the crime from happening in the first place. We all are the eyes and ears of the places we live. Just by paying attention, reporting, and acting, we can help fight against human trafficking.

This not a problem just in the UK, it is a problem everywhere. And we, as a global community need to fight together to stop the traffik.

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The long route to fight human trafficking

Austin2

Kaye Woodard-Hotz and I at the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Before I head off to London, I had to make a stop at the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Attorney General’s Office in Austin. Human trafficking has had its long history in Texas, but what we are doing to fight against it can only be seen and answered by legislation in our state. I had the opportunity to meet with Kaye Woodard-Hotz, manager of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Crisis Services program and Crime Victims Services Policy and Planning in the Crime Victim Services Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Ms. Woodard-Hotz has worked on fighting human trafficking for many years now. She is one of the few people who have gotten to see the drastic change in policy for anti-trafficking over the last several years.

Through our meeting, I learned how Texas has had a history of human trafficking along the Interstate Highway 10 Corridor that runs across Texas from Houston to El Paso. We talked about how human trafficking, though prevalent in Texas, was not always a primary concern for state legislation until around 2003.

Around 2003 was when the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate started recognizing human trafficking as a major issue. There were a few who initiated the change and push for a bill to help prosecutors better investigate and prosecute cases that may involve human trafficking. Two key people in getting legislation started were Representative Senfronia Thompson and Senator Leticia Van de Putte.

I also had the opportunity to sit down and discuss legislation with Amber Hausenfluck, Deputy Legislative Director for Senator Van de Putte’s office. Senator Van de Putte’s district consists of a major city along the I-10 corridor, San Antonio, which has seen significant change since the changes in legislation for cases in the area.

While aftercare is important for survivors of trafficking, it is important for legislation to be passed and enforced as well. We can do everything in our power to help survivors, but when we make it law, it can be enforced by all cities in the state of Texas. In 2003, the first law was passed that criminalized human trafficking in Texas. Since then, we have come a long way. Almost fifteen different pieces of legislation have been brought to the Texas Congress to help fight against human trafficking in the last ten years.

With the recent influx of migrants from Mexico, the new concern with human trafficking as well as human smuggling is now posed in the Rio Grande Valley area. Members of the Texas Congress have a scheduled a hearing with the people of the area to hear about the situation and address any pressing issues. Similar to San Antonio, Houston is a major city of concern for human trafficking as it lies on the I-10 corridor, but is also a port of entry from the sea as well. This is more of a reason to take action and spread awareness to the people of Texas.

We have taken a long route in our fight against human trafficking, but I-10 is 2,500 miles long, and we have plenty to go. We should continue to spread awareness and push forward, and learn from what other countries have to offer on this matter. It’s a global issue that we all need to solve. So for my last stop, I will be heading to London to work with Stop the Traffik!

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Are we there yet?

Time has flown by and summer has almost come to an end. This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend ten weeks volunteering with Refugee Services of Texas in Austin (RST). Getting to work with people from all around the world and helping them settle into their new lifestyle here in Texas was an amazing experience. During my time with RST, I was able to help RST clients with mapping and exploring the Austin area.

Refugee Services of Texas is an organization that assists refugees, asylees, and survivors of trafficking with settling in their new home and learning about the area. Currently RST has five branches in Texas located in Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston. Refugee Services of Texas provides their clients ESL classes, medical clinic checkups, bus orientations, and the opportunity to explore the area. With many clients from around the world, and five locations, RST is constantly in need of volunteers to help them accomplish the many services they provide.

During my time with RST, I was able to work with many of RST’s clients from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal, and Cuba. I was able to show many clients around Austin, but most importantly I was able to show them how to use the bus system in their area. My task for the summer was to assist clients with bus orientation.

Bus orientation entails assisting clients with understanding Austin’s Capitol Metro Bus System to help them travel from their home to their ESL classes, the clinic, or anywhere else they might want to go. At the beginning of the summer, I didn’t think I would get to learn as much as I did through something like bus orientation. Sitting on a bus with a client (and their family sometimes), and showing them to their destination doesn’t seem like much interaction. However, in the three to four hours for the entire journey – from their home to wherever we were going, it was such an eye-opening experience.

Many of the clients I worked with didn’t speak fluent English, but with some broken words, games of charades, and of course Google Translate, we were able to communicate. From many of the clients I worked with, I got to learn what life was like for them and what living situations are like in many of the countries they left. Clients who come from various countries are not only refugees, but some are refugees who have been trafficked from another country, or are seeking asylum, or any combination of the three.

However, the one thing they all have in common is hope. Hope for a better life – for themselves, their families, their children. Many of the people that are here in Texas who are seeking refuge or asylum have been through unimaginable situations – all to feel safe, to see a future for them and their family, a place to call home.

Never knowing the answer to “are we there yet” or knowing where “there” is, is a frustrating feeling. Going somewhere, but not knowing where you’re going, is something that is not only hard to explain, but also to understand. Refugee Services of Texas does a great job in helping these families find the answer, helping them settle into a safe place they can call home. I am privileged to have volunteered with such a great organization. I have learned so much and had such a wonderful experience. I hope to volunteer with RST again. My last stop is in London, to work with Stop the Traffik – I hope to have as great of an experience with them as I did with RST!

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