More than 40 representatives from BJU attended a human trafficking symposium Friday, April 7, including students and faculty from several academic programs including health sciences, criminal justice, biblical counseling and nursing. Staff from Student Life also attended.
Hosted by the Bon Secours St. Francis Health System at the Kroc Center in downtown Greenville, the symposium addressed ways to identify and prevent human trafficking through areas such as health care and criminal justice.
The keynote speaker for the symposium was Rep. Trey Gowdy, congressman for South Carolina’s 4th congressional district, which includes Greenville and Spartanburg.
Dr. Jessica Minor, biology faculty member, said an invitation to the symposium was extended to BJU students and faculty by the St. Francis Health System after representatives from St. Francis met with Dr. Pettit.
Minor said Rep. Gowdy praised the Upstate for being more advanced than many other metropolitan areas in initiatives to prevent human trafficking and informed those attending of his own efforts on Capitol Hill.
Melanie Schell, a nutrition faculty member, said Gowdy also warned that Greenville’s position between the major cities of Atlanta and Charlotte made the area more prone to human trafficking than other similar cities.
Dr. Amy Hicks, another biology faculty member, said the symposium stressed the importance of identifying human trafficking and reporting it to the appropriate authorities without getting directly involved.
Hicks said that often some of the signs of human trafficking that healthcare professionals may see are relationships that appear to be based on fear, patients never being left alone and patients never being allowed to hold identification papers or speak for themselves.
Hicks said one surprising fact discussed during the symposium was the average age and profile of those trafficked.
Human trafficking has similar prevalence among male and female children between the ages of 12 and 15.
Hicks said trafficked males are much harder to identify and rescue than trafficked females.
Breanna Nicholson, a junior health science student, said she was surprised at the average age of abduction and also by some ways they are abducted.
“Oftentimes traffickers will use high school-aged individuals to recruit younger kids,” Nicholson said. “It really brings out the severity and horror of this situation.”
Nicholson said she was also surprised to see how few people are trained to recognize trafficking.
“The most important thing we can do to help eliminate human trafficking is to raise awareness and educate people on how to recognize the signs of human trafficking,” Nicholson said.
According to a 2005 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, between 14,500 and 17,500 victims are human trafficked in the United States each year.
Schell said after the symposium she discussed with her students how a Christian should respond to the human trafficking issue and help victims.
“We can take all this information, and it’s very good,” Schell said. “But we have to remember that we have a greater Power than the power that’s holding onto those people.”