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Tracy Frank, Published February 11 2014

Her Voice: Cobbers work to raise awareness of human trafficking

Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at tfrank@forumcomm.com.

MOORHEAD – Sometimes Kate Schiffman and Amy Oksol feel overwhelmed by what they’re trying to do.

The women are president and vice president, respectively, of the Concordia College chapter of the International Justice Mission. They’re trying to raise awareness on campus about the realities of human trafficking, a modern form of slavery.

Oksol, 21, a senior, joined the group last year because a poster at the Cobber Expo grabbed her attention. Then Oksol says someone asked her if she knew there were more slaves in the world now than ever before.

“The more I heard the stories, the more I wanted to get more involved,” she said. “I almost felt ignorant that I didn’t know this was going on and that we still have slavery in our world and right here in the United States. You’re always taught in history slavery was a thing of the past.”

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery where women, children, and men are forced into prostitution, sexual exploitation, debt bondage or forced labor. The U.S. State Department estimates 27 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide.

Nearly 2 million are children exploited in the commercial sex industry, according to the International Justice Mission, a human rights agency that helps rescue victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

Human trafficking generates more than

$32 billion dollars a year, the International Justice Mission states on its website.

Schiffman and Oksol are working to raise awareness by holding discussions and planning events such as bringing speakers to campus.

They also hope to show the documentary “Nefarious, Merchant of Souls,” which exposes the underworld of sex trafficking, during Justice Week this March.

After seeing the documentary, Oksol said she “just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.”

Even the work she’s doing doesn’t feel like it’s enough, she said.

Oksol, who grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., is a math major and plans to pursue an advanced degree in economics so she can work on policy analysis with third-world countries to find ways to help foreign aid make more of an impact.

She was inspired to pursue her career by a mission trip to Mexico last spring.

“That just impacted me so powerfully to see those kids living in poverty and looking at the living conditions and the justice system there is so broken,” Oksol said. “I just couldn’t get it out of my head and I just felt compelled to do something.”

Schiffman, 21, is a junior business organizational leadership major studying social entrepreneurship, which involves developing innovative solutions to social problems.

“I have always had a deep sense of justice,” she said.

She grew up on the West Coast and first learned about the International Justice Mission through a youth group. So when she found a chapter on campus, she decided to join.

The group has about 10 to 15 members and was started about four years ago, Schiffman said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526