Human trafficking subject of upcoming symposium
Thursday, April 17, 2014 1:00 AM
Human trafficking doesn't just happen in back alleys in big cities to children and teens that no one cares about.
The commercial sexual exploitation of American's youth can shake any community, and Holmes Community College is bringing a speaker to the Ridgeland campus April 23 to share her insights and offer advice.
Holly Austin Smith, a survivor of human trafficking at age 14, will speak at 6 p.m. at the D.P. "Pat" McGowan Workforce Training Center in Ridgeland. The speech is free and open to the public, and Holmes officials are inviting the community to come learn about an issue that can easily strike close to home.
"We've wanted to have a speaker on this subject because the issue of human trafficking is so prevalent in our society," said Cynthia McCoy, department chair of the Social & Behavioral Science. "Unfortunately, people aren't aware of this growing problem.
"Because we live in the South, we think human trafficking occurs in larger cities or other countries, but it's becoming more and more common. We want to make the public aware that it's not just happening in larger cities."
In her recently released book Human Prey, Smith tells her story: how at age 14, she fell victim to manipulation tactics of a man she met at a mall. He made her feel pretty and special. Flattered that he singled her out from her group of friends, she ran away with him two weeks later. But within 12 hours of leaving home, she was forced into prostitution on the streets of Atlantic City.
"She felt she didn't fit in, that she wasn't attractive," said McCoy, who teaches sociology and psychology at Holmes. "
Smith's issues are ones that other youth can relate to, while parents and educators need to be aware of the vulnerability and susceptibility of teens and tweens, McCoy said. "Adolescence is a difficult time for kids. If they're not in the 'in crowd' they reach out to the wrong people.
"It wasn't over the Internet for Holly in 1992," she said. "Now with technology and social media, this exploitation becomes more prevalent."
Bringing Smith to campus is a wake-up call to the community that what happened to her can happen anywhere and to anyone, McCoy said.
More than a memoir, Smith's book also provides information to parents, educators, law enforcement, health professionals and others on how to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation. Her speech will echo that.
"She calls it Human Trafficking 101," McCoy said.
McCoy said several years ago she started reading about the growing concerns with human trafficking. She at first thought it was a problem confined overseas or far away from here. The more she read, McCoy realized it was a much bigger problem and one closer to home than most people realize.
Brining Smith to the Ridgeland campus to speak to the community "was not a hard sell to our administration," McCoy said. "They are very supportive in spreading the word about this problem.
During the day April 23, Smith will speak to Holmes students on the Grenada and Goodman campuses because college administrators believe strongly that all students can benefit from Smith's knowledge and counseling.
But it's not just college students that need the information, McCoy said. "Anybody can benefit from this - law enforcement, counselors, social workers, teachers, parents. This is not just for Holmes but for the entire community."
There will be a question-and-answer segment at the end of Smith's speech. She will also sign copies of her book Human Prey, which was published in March.