Students Against Human Trafficking (SAHT) member and senior Shalinee Maitra (center) facilitates an assembly at the 2018 SAHT Day of Awareness.

Students Against Human Trafficking Club aims to combat sex trafficking through education

Generating an estimated $99 billion dollars each year, the sex trafficking industry has proliferated to become the fastest growing illegal enterprise in the world, according to Equality Now.

It is under these circumstances that Students Against Human Trafficking (SAHT) works to prevent commercial sexual exploitation, which they define as the manipulation of a person to make them unwillingly sell their body for money. While this issue may seem difficult for a high school club to tackle, those in SAHT have found viable ways to make a real difference.

Seniors Ceci Cipullo, Emma Grinspoon, Sophia Levin and Frances McMillan lead SAHT. The first step that they take towards their goal is to educate the community about human trafficking and the many misconceptions that may be held about the topic.

“{Some people think} that all prostitutes are super sexy and that they’re selling themselves,” Cipullo said, describing some of these false impressions.

“In the media, women are often objectified or look like they’re having fun,” Grinspoon added on. “We get people to see the reality is that there’s a person being hurt behind what someone might think is harmless.”

Cipullo and Grinspoon said that they want people to understand the differences between sex work and sex trafficking.

“There are definitely people who have multiple options, like it’s not out of financial necessity, and they choose that it’s something they want to do with their body,” Grinspoon said. “That’s totally a respectable thing to do, but that’s only five percent of the time. We focus on that 95 percent who have no other option or are being coerced or forced into it.”

SAHT spreads these lessons through student-led workshops and their day of awareness in February. Senior and club member Olivia Rieur described the importance of this day of assemblies devoted to the cause.

“I think it’s really powerful to see so many people learning so much and becoming more aware about the issue,” Rieur said. “I feel like it’s an issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and to know that we’re making an impact on however many people come watch the assemblies, that’s just really amazing.”

For many that go to the assemblies, it is their first time learning about the full extent of human trafficking. According to Cipullo, a lot of people see it as something that is only a problem overseas, but SAHT wants to get out the message that human trafficking is not just an international problem. This fact was one of the reasons why freshman Nathaniel Seitelman decided to join the club.

“I realized that this is something that happens everywhere, and that it’s actually closer than I thought it would be,” Seitelman said. “I decided that this is an issue that I want to advocate for.”

On top of their curriculum branch, SAHT also fundraises for the nonprofit My Life My Choice. According to Grinspoon, last year they raised more than $600 through one raffle. Additionally, four members of the club went to Washington, D.C. last year to lobby for stronger laws against human trafficking.

“This club makes it feel like you’re really doing something to make a change. Like you’re not just saying, ‘I’m against human trafficking’ or ‘I support feminism,’” Cipullo said. “We’re actually doing tangible things, and it feels like a really practical way to be a feminist.”

With 21 girls and four boys, SAHT is overwhelmingly female. As a boy, however, Seitelman contradicts the notion that only girls can be feminists and said that he feels no different being in the club.

“Just because it’s a feminist issue doesn’t mean it’s not an issue for everyone,” Seitelman said. “I’m not a woman, but it doesn’t mean I can’t be a feminist.”

According to Cipullo and Grinspoon, sexism plays a large role in human trafficking, but the criminal activity also relies on its intersection with racism and classism.

“That’s why I find this to be such a powerful issue,” Grinspoon said. “Every single system of oppression plays into the industry. By targeting this industry and by targeting systems of oppression, you’re working together to end them all.”

Cipullo said that, in the best way possible, being in the club has taken up a lot of her time. In a similar way, Grinspoon said that SAHT has brought activism and social justice to the forefront of her identity.

“I think it’s definitely had a huge impact in what I want to do with my life,” Grinspoon said. “I really want to make a difference in the world, and I don’t want to wait.”

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