Class drive benefits trafficking victims

Ryan Thompson

Students of a women’s and gender studies class, taught by Sharon Sullivan, professor of theatre, organized a donation drive to benefit victims of human trafficking in early November, 2016.

The official website of the Attorney General of Kansas defines human trafficking as “the criminal activity of holding another person for the purposes of exploitation through forced labor and sex trafficking.”

Organizers say human trafficking is a serious problem in Kansas and it affects the Topeka area directly.

“In October when we began talking about this drive, we were told that in September there were 28 human trafficking victims that were saved,” said Keely Brunner, an organizer for the drive. “Another thing we were told was that there were 30 plus homes in Topeka that housed human trafficking victims.”

The class placed boxes around Topeka, both on and off campus, to accept donations of essential items, giving the Topeka community a way to become involved directly. The items being accepted include shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, hairbrushes, combs, hair ties, deodorant, hand lotion, tampons, sanitary napkins, packaged socks, underwear, lap blankets, nonperishable snack food, journals, pens, along with gift cards for retail stores, gasoline and phone minute reboost cards. The items collected are bundled into care bags for victims of human trafficking.

“This drive and the care bags will help human trafficking victims get a good ground of taking back their lives,” Brunner said. “These victims were taken from everything they had, so it is extremely important that as they begin to reestablish their lives, they know that there are people and a community that are there to support them with their journey.”

Each student took on a different responsibility in organizing the drive. Students also obtained activism hours through this work.

“I had to make flyers and write a press release,” said Zane White, an organizer for the drive. “Others collected boxes and put them around campus as a drop off spot for the items. Some made banners and others also did tabling at Washburn in the union across from the corner store.”

Some students reached out to their employers, leading to Zumiez and Genesis Health Clubs placing drop off boxes at multiple locations. Alpha Phi, whom Brunner is a member of, spread the word throughout the Greek Life community. Alpha Phi also hand wrote notes with inspirational sayings, quotes and Bible verses to be included in the care bags. The sorority produced a total of 193 notes.

Although the class has ended, donations are still being accepted.

“If people do have items that they would like to donate, they [should] contact Professor Sharon Sullivan and she would be able to get those items distributed to the victims,” Brunner said.

Through its website, the Attorney General’s Office encourages witnesses of suspected human trafficking to report it to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

“For me, it’s crazy to think people actually force [others] into situations like these, but we are here to help and comfort them,” White said.