In 1992 a young teenager, Holly Austin Smith, was persuaded by a man at the local mall to run away from home. He manipulated her into thinking it was for her own good; forcing her into believing he could give her the life of her dreams, away from the social anxiety and depression of her day to day experiences.
She was gone for a total of 36 hours, and during that time, she was raped and forced into prostitution in Atlantic City, N.J. Smith was 14 years old, and she was one of the lucky ones.
As one of the many victims of human trafficking in the United States, Smith has become a vocal activist in the effort to bring attention to the ever-present issue. Saturday’s Gannon University-sponsored conference “I’m Not For Sale” will be discussing the issue of domestic human trafficking. The conference will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Yehl Ballroom.
Smith will be the keynote speaker for the event and will be relating her personal experiences from her book “Walking Prey: How America’s Youth Are Vulnerable To Sex Slavery.”
Smith has since been invited to speak all over world about the sexual exploitation of children. Most notably in 2012 she spoke at the Trafficking in Persons Symposium in Salt Lake City, an event hosted by the United States Department of Justice.
She also spoke at the 2013 Next Generation Leadership Exchange Forum in Paris on the connection between negative messages in the media and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. In addition to being a renowned speaker, she is often utilized to provide testimony and input to law enforcement officials, social service providers and human trafficking task forces.
The issue of human trafficking in the United States is both terrifying and shockingly ignored by the general public.
Those attending the conference will be involved with a human trafficking simulation and participate in a discussion panel with perspectives from the Crime Victims Center, Sisters of St. Joseph, FBI, U.S. Border Patrol and student veteran Julia Leix.
Julia Leix, a biology pre-med major, created the Students United Against Human Trafficking organization at Gannon to create awareness on campus and in the Erie community. Leix said Gannon students and the Erie community need to become aware of an issue that strikes millions so that people can move one step closer to eliminating human trafficking.
“I want to help individuals who are suffering from being trafficked and help them get their life back on track so that they have a happy, fulfilled life,” Leix said.
The attendees will have a choice of one of the five offered workshops they would like to participate in and then separate into their designated groups.
The workshop options are The Willing Victim, working with keynote speaker Smith; Political Advocacy Training, working with Gannon student Jared Schaaf; Consumer Ethics with Dr. Jimmy Menkhaus, a professor of theology; Founding a Student Movement with Leix, the president of Students United Against Human Trafficking organization; or Who Are the Faces of Human Trafficking? with sophomore social work majors Rachel Webb and Leah Johnson, who are also members of the Students Against Human Trafficking organization.
The conference is free and provides lunch, but a $5 donation is suggested. For more information, email Gannon’s Students United Against Human Trafficking at [email protected]