PSHS freshmen explore the tough truth of human trafficking
“This doesn’t really happen, does it?” asked one incredulous freshman after beginning the book Sold by Patricia McCormick, which tells a story of human trafficking.
Unfortunately, PSHS English teacher Taylor South had to explain to her freshmen honors English class that not only does human trafficking and sexual slavery happen, it is one of the fastest-growing human rights crises in South Carolina and the world.
Sold, a fictional story based on true accounts of sexual slavery, was a part of the freshmen curriculum this year. The main character in the book is a 13 year-old Nepalese girl who is sold into slavery by her stepfather to pay his gambling debts. South said her class knew very little about the growing epidemic portrayed in the book.
“They were shocked that it is happening right here in their own community and asked to know more,” she said.
“The depth of this project wasn’t planned, it wasn’t in my syllabus -- the kids were curious and wanted to know more,” explained South. “Who was I to say no? So with the principal’s support, we embarked on tackling this challenging, emotional, important issue in ways they could understand and try to relate. They also wanted to make a difference.”
“It started with questions as we began reading the book -- but as they learned about the prevalence of the problem, a two-week unit turned to a month-long exploration,” she added.
The class recently delved into researching the subject and came up with projects that incorporated student art, in-depth reports, power points, statistical presentations, writing real-life accounts of women who have escaped, and public outreach.
“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in the world, and South Carolina sits right between two of the top 20 hubs for it— Atlanta and Charlotte,” explained Attorney General Alan Wilson during a press conference last January. “That’s why we created our Human Trafficking Task Force... It’s going to take all of us working together to fight this modern-day slavery.”
Since the time of the Attorney General’s speech, it has been reported that more than 177 Charleston-area citizens have fallen victim to human trafficking.
South says her students were “amazed” by this number -- and it hit home. One student project in South’s class was a running video featuring photos of these 177 local victims set to music with a short synopsis of each of their stories. Two other students used their projects to “rewrite the ending” of Sold, in which the author’s conclusion is left up for interpretation. For those projects, the students did additional research.
“What happens if the victims are lucky enough to be rescued? What does it take to begin to heal from such a traumatic experience?” said South, referencing the topics one student explored.
Another student imagined that the main character was left to be resold again into sex slavery.
“The projects were broken down into artistic representation, creative writing, photojournalism, community outreach and data/statistical research.”
What resulted was a classroom filled with voices, sculptures, posters, drawings, reports, essays and videos.
“It was impressive, the amount of work they came up with,” South explained. “What they didn’t know how to do, they were willing to figure it out because they were so interested in the topic.”
“One student wanted to study and represent the geographical locations where the trafficking can start -- he went to a local hotel, a truck stop, and a (big box store).”
Sometimes, South said, the work got overwhelming and emotional -- the students had to take breaks. But they “hung in there” and concluded with a group project that focused on coming up with “a plan to get this information out to the students outside of class -- to create an awareness to impact more than just our class, but the whole school, and hopefully beyond,” she said.
VOICES FROM THE CLASSROOM
“Having grown up in the middle class suburbs, generally close to a big city in America, I had very little knowledge about the trade before embarking on this project. It is easy for me to not think about the problems of others, especially if both the environment, culture, and problems are different than what I am used to…Participating in this project has made me acknowledge that this is happening on a large scale, and that something needs to be done about it.”
“In my day-to-day life, I had never thought about the subject of human trafficking. The task that I chose, was to investigate where human trafficking occurs in my community, and the way I accomplished this was by using photo journalism. After doing my research on where these actions occur and who is affected, I came up with a list of places that could be photographed in a way that shows a portrait of the area. The shocking realization I had was just how close I lived to the places where these things occur…Doing this work has made me extremely interested in what else I can do to shed light on the subject.”
“Learning about human trafficking and its impacts on others has greatly enhanced my knowledge of the outside world. Working on this project has altered my perspective of my surroundings and helped me realize that situations of human and sex trafficking aren’t uncommon…Growing up on Daniel Island has especially aided in my disregard of certain issues; it’s like a small little bubble, shielded from common issues and troubles. Allowing students to take part on projects like the one we did inches us closer to discovering ways to end this horrific crime, as it educates people about this
“…In the United States, there are 1.5 million victims of human trafficking, with more than 20 million worldwide. Globally, two million children are subjected to prostitution. All of these stats are revolting, but the one that hit closest to home, quite literally, was an article about a man from South Carolina, but no ordinary man: a sex trafficking ringleader who received 40 years in jail for his crime. Not only is what this man did a terrible thing, but it also occurred in our very state, making this seemingly distant threat very real.”