A contingent of justice-minded students canvassed hotels in the greater Miami area on Saturday to combat human-trafficking, which typically increases during the Super Bowl and other major sporting events.
The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will play in the Super Bowl on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, in Miami Gardens. The stadium is about 60 miles from campus. The influx of thousands of international spectators at major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the World Cup and the Olympics puts children and young people at greater risk of exploitation.
Roughly 25 undergraduate and graduate students were among hundreds of volunteers who turned out at a Miami charter school early Saturday morning to assemble kits with posters, leaflets, wristbands and other materials printed with the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In the afternoon, volunteers fanned out to distribute the kits to more than 400 hotels and motels.
The majority of PBA volunteers were members of the University’s International Justice Mission chapter or students in the Master of Science in Global Development program. Many, such as chapter President Kai Mauga, are exploring vocations related to the rescue and recovery of exploited people.
Mauga, a senior studying business management, plans a career in tactical and investigative police work. He’s known about human trafficking for years and, on a PBA mission trip, did outreach for people in the sex trade in South Africa.
“I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and that sense of right and wrong,” Mauga said. “It hurts to see people exploiting other people. I wanted to try to do something to make a difference.”
It’s a Penalty partnered with A21 and The SOAP Project for the initiative. Even without the Super Bowl, Miami has the fourth highest rate of calls per capita to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, according to Polaris. Florida has the third-highest rate of reported human trafficking cases.
The PBA students delivered the anti-human trafficking kits and shared talking points at hotels in Doral and Miramar. The front desk staff were generally receptive, and some had already received training to recognize the signs of human trafficking — although many hadn’t, Mauga said. One woman told the students, “We really need this training,” Mauga recalled.
Katie Gentry ’16 recruited volunteers as the South Florida Volunteer Team leader for IJM.
“They anchor everything they do in scripture, and I found that to be unique among organizations that are fighting violence against the poor, fighting human trafficking,” said Gentry, PBA’s Alumni Relations coordinator and a graduate student in Global Development. “It’s the only sustainable model – is to know that this is a biblical calling, otherwise burnout is inevitable.”
Gentry’s passion for joining IJM began as an undergraduate student at PBA. After graduation, Gentry interned with IJM doing community mobilization work in the Philippines. For students who are discovering their interests, events such as the Super Bowl awareness campaign are the perfect opportunity to grow in their understanding of human trafficking in the U.S. while they explore their callings, Gentry said.
Tamara Amboise, a freshman ministry major, is a helper by nature and felt compelled to volunteer. She wants to run a nonprofit for under-resourced women one day.
“Doing this helped me realize that women need help, and kids need help,” Amboise said.
Seventy percent of trafficking survivors are women and girls — a statistic that struck freshman Tristen van der Meulen. She was shocked by seeing the faces of missing girls from the Miami area on posters distributed to the hotels, she said. Five missing people pictured on similar posters were recovered after the Super Bowl in Atlanta, said It’s a Penalty CEO Sarah de Carvalho.
Like Mauga, van der Meulen wants to make a career of ending human trafficking.
“I want to be a lawyer who ends it, because it’s something I’m so passionate about, and I feel like that’s what God is calling me to do,” she said.
Photo 1: Students (back row) Emilyann Reynolds, Melody Bohannan, Julian Gabourel, Emma Secrest, Kai Mauga, (front row) Elvanice Previlma, Brianna Rivas and Emily Smothers were among a group of about 25 undergraduate and graduate students who traveled to Miami early Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 to participate in an anti-human trafficking campaign in advance of the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens.
Photo 2: Thuy Nguyen places a label with the National Human Trafficking Hotline onto a makeup-removing wipe as part of an anti-human trafficking campaign before the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens. Children and young people are at greater risk of exploitation during such major sporting events, which bring thousands of visitors.
Photo 3: Lina Lora, a graduate student in the Master of Christian Studies and Global Development programs, labels makeup-removing wipes as part of an anti-human trafficking campaign in advance of the Super Bowl. Vulnerable people are at greater risk of exploitation around such major sporting events because of the influx of visitors.