Read a version of this article on theburgnews.com.
Sometimes silence is louder than shouts. Sometimes black is bright. Sometimes the traffic needs to be stopped because of the trafficking that never stops.
Over 130 people including Messiah students, alumni and Harrisburg residents walked the streets of Harrisburg on Saturday morning. Dressed in black, they silently walked in solidarity with one not-so-silent message—slavery still exists.
“Human trafficking is not just an issue that’s in a far off land, it’s here,” Jordan Pine, director of Greenlight Operation in Harrisburg and Messiah alum, said. While trafficking is often seen as an international issue, Pine urged people to recognize the slavery occurring around them. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry world-wide, Pine said.
Pennsylvania ranks number 10 in the nation for most cases of human trafficking. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, almost 200 cases of trafficking were reported last year. The majority of victims are females involved in sex trafficking.
Harrisburg specifically is a hotspot, as thousands of vehicles pass through central Pennsylvania daily. Pine noted that the trucking and warehouse industries in the area make it especially easy for transporting and holding victims.
“We talk about [trafficking] overseas, but it’s happening here,” junior Cameron Walker said. Because she believes in bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking, Walker attended the event with a few friends.
Because slavery is seen as an international issue only, awareness in Pennsylvania is low. “Awareness is a big issue,” Fundraising Coordinator of Greenlight Operation Sarah Love said. “There’s a lot of things happening under people’s noses in this region.”
It is out of this frustration with the lack of awareness that Greenlight Operation runs on; hoping to extinguish human trafficking from hotspots such as Harrisburg. The organization has a big dream—“to see abolitionists turn their communities from redlight districts to Greenlight districts, bringing freedom to all.”
In order to achieve this dream, Greenlight Operation works through outreach and awareness campaigns to bring community mobilization. The 2018 Walk for Freedom this past weekend was one way they involve the Harrisburg community annually.
The Walk for Freedom is sponsored by the organization A21, a non-profit working to abolish modern-day slavery around the world. Over 450 cities in more than 50 nations participated in the walk and Harrisburg was one of them. Partnering with A21, Greenlight Operation invited community members from the greater Harrisburg area to the Pennsylvania State Capitol steps.
Attendees had different reasons for coming, but all had the same mission. Harrisburg resident Edwin Beckford said being an African American helped him relate to the mission of abolishing slavery. “Slavery was part of our history.”
Junior Jessica Avallone remembered learning about human trafficking when she was 13 years old. “People are usually uncomfortable with talking about human trafficking, but it’s happening.”
As Beckford, Avallone and hundreds of others organized into a single-file line, voices were hushed and signs proclaiming attention-grabbing messages and shocking statistics were raised.
“Every 30 seconds someone becomes a slave,” “Human trafficking generates an estimated $150.2 billion annually” and “1% of victims are never rescued,” were a few of the bold signs.
The approximately 3-mile walk passed the Capitol building, Broad Street Market and even walked along the river. Harrisburg police aided in stopping traffic for the walkers to march on safely.
Reactions to the silent, dark-clothed line of participants and their contrasting bright signs included shouts of encouragement, car horns and claps.
But not all those passed by were especially excited. “I didn’t think slavery was still an issue,” came a sarcastic voice floating out a Broad Street Market window.
Even with remarks such as this, Freedom walkers marched on. Some would stray to approach a bystander, giving them a flyer explaining the mission, but they always returned to the group.
“I know the hopelessness girls that are trafficked have, but we can bring them the hope of Christ,” Heidi Depue, a volunteer at Greenlight Operation said.
Many of those who attended the walk expressed a similar Christian belief. Pine encouraged the group with “there is freedom for the captives,” coming from the book of Isaiah in the Bible.
Some even believed this was a part of their calling as followers of Christ. “I believe we can do a lot through our churches,” Beckford said.
No matter the belief or background, no matter the age, gender, or nationality, the Harrisburg walkers for Freedom were passionate about awareness and action in addressing human trafficking.
“My team and I felt that the walk was a success,” Pine said. “Awareness about the issue of human trafficking was spread, we raised about $2,500 for A21 and handed out over 300 flyers throughout the community with statistics about human trafficking and the National Human Trafficking Hotline on them.”
While Greenlight Operation has primarily been focused on bringing awareness to communities, such as through the walk, they are now also working on building a safehouse for victims of human trafficking in the greater Harrisburg area.
While there are some short-term care facilities for survivors to find temporary refuge in, Greenlight Operation wants to build a long-term facility tailored to individuals’ specific needs. Their mission states, “Our restoration program will provide individualized, holistic care, which will include trauma therapy, counseling, and courses that equip each woman to live an independent and sustainable lifestyle.”
The safehouse is set to open in two years and will be able to house 5-8 women at a time for a duration of 6-12 months. This house is one tangible way to combat the statistic that the average lifespan for a woman trapped in slavery is seven years.
Awareness of human trafficking is still an issue in Pennsylvania and the criminal industry is still growing. But with thousands of dollars being raised at the walk, a safehouse being built and church members becoming active, hope is gaining more and more hands and feet and it’s moving. Even if its silent and dressed in all black, it’s moving.