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Eighth annual sex trafficking conference hosted at UT

For the IC

Published: Monday, October 3, 2011

Updated: Monday, October 3, 2011 17:10

Toledo is an established hub for sex trafficking and prostitution, but it is also at the center of several initiatives to address and solve these issues.

One of these initiatives taking place at UT is the One Dress, One Month Project where students wear the same dress every day for the whole month of October.

Several other projects used to address Toledo's sex trafficking issue were addressed at the eighth-annual Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex Work Conference hosted by UT last Thursday and Friday.

The conference established a meeting place for experts and professionals to share and develop ideas, research and solutions for Toledo's sex trade problem, according to the conference's website.

According to the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, sex trafficking generates approximately $58 billion annually in the U.S. and is considered the world's fastest-growing illegal enterprise.

The report ranks Toledo as the third-largest American city in human trafficking and/or sex trade. Approximately over 1,800 children are trafficked through Ohio annually.

Daniella Soriano, a senior majoring in social work who has participated in the One Dress, One Month Project, said she hopes the event will spur a conversation among college students about how serious sex trafficking is "in [their] own backyard."

The project is hosted by the UT chapter of the International Justice Mission, Soriano said.

It began Saturday and will last for 30 days.

Soriano said approximately 50 to 60 girls are participating this year and will wear their dresses both on and off campus.

"They can put on whatever accessories they want and, of course, they're allowed to wash the dress," Soriano said.

The project was also held last March and April to raise funds for the Daughter Project, a faith-based, non-profit group in Northwest Ohio currently building a halfway house for sex trade victims, according to the group's website.

Christopher Dean, a senior majoring in history, said he was impressed with the global scope of this year's sex trafficking conference.

"These really are global issues, and it's cool that Toledo is at the center of all these initiatives to confront those issues," Dean said.

The conference lasted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

Three lectures occurred simultaneously during the conference, each lasting an hour and a half. Multiple lectures were packed to the door with students, faculty and visitors.

Topics included debunking common myths about the sex trade, recognizing individuals involved in prostitution and strategies for ending the sex trade.

Lecturers included professors and government workers from other states and countries, such as Canada, Ghana, Liberia and Russia.

The south wing of the Union was also filled with information and merchandise booths.

The information booths offered highlights from several of the lectures, and the merchandise booth sold jewelry and topic-related books, with a portion of the profits benefitting charities and shelters in the Toledo area.

Last year, Senate Bill 235 was unanimously passed, implementing stricter penalties for sex traffickers and better protection for trafficked and exploited victims.

The bill was co-written and spearheaded by Celia Williamson, professor of social services at UT and co-founder of the Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex Work Conference.

For more information on the Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex Work Conference, visit www.prositutionconference.com.

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