Sometimes, silence is louder than shouts.
Hundreds of people walked the streets of Harrisburg on Saturday morning. Dressed in black, they quietly walked in solidarity with a not-so-silent message—slavery still exists.
“Human trafficking is not just an issue that’s in a far-off land,” said Jordan Pine, director of Greenlight Operation, which organized the 2018 Walk for Freedom in Harrisburg. “It’s here.”
While trafficking is often seen as an international issue, Pine urged people to recognize the slavery occurring around them. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry worldwide, Pine said.
Pennsylvania ranks No. 10 in the nation for most cases of human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, as almost 200 cases of trafficking were reported last year. The majority of victims are women involved in sex trafficking.
Harrisburg specifically is a hotspot, as thousands of vehicles pass through central Pennsylvania daily. Pine noted that the trucking and warehouse industries in the area make it especially easy for transporting and holding victims.
“We talk about [trafficking] overseas, but it’s happening here,” Messiah College student Cameron Walker said.
Walker brought a few friends to the event, as she believes in bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking.
“Awareness is a big issue,” affirmed Sarah Love, fundraising coordinator of Greenlight Operation. “There are a lot of things happening under people’s noses in this region.”
The Walk for Freedom is sponsored by the organization A21, a nonprofit working to abolish modern-day slavery around the world. Over 450 cities in more than 50 nations participated in the walk, and Harrisburg was one of them. Partnering with A21, Greenlight Operation invited community members from the greater Harrisburg area to the state Capitol steps.
Attendees had different reasons for coming, but all had the same mission. Harrisburg resident Edwin Beckford said being an African American helped him relate to the mission of abolishing slavery. “Slavery was part of our history,” he said.
Student Jessica Avallone remembered learning about human trafficking when she was 13 years old. “People are usually uncomfortable with talking about human trafficking, but it’s happening,” she said.
As Beckford, Avallone and hundreds of others organized into a single-file line, voices were hushed and signs were raised with attention-grabbing messages and shocking statistics.
“Every 30 seconds someone becomes a slave,” said one sign. “Human trafficking generates an estimated $150.2 billion annually,” and “1% of victims are never rescued,” said others.
The 3-mile walk passed the Capitol building, Broad Street Market and the Susquehanna River. Harrisburg police helped out by stopping traffic at intersections.
“My team and I felt that the walk was a success,” Pine said. “Awareness about the issue of human trafficking was spread.”
Pine said that the group raised about $2,500 for A21 and handed out more than 300 flyers with statistics about human trafficking, with the National Human Trafficking Hotline on them.
While Greenlight Operation has primarily been focused on raising awareness, such as through the walk, they are now also working on building a safe house for victims of human trafficking in the greater Harrisburg area. The safe house is set to open in two years and will be able to house five to eight women at a time for six to 12 months each.
To learn more about Greenlight Operation, visit www.greenlightoperation.org.
Maddie Conley is journalism major at Messiah College.