Volunteers fight human trafficking


When people speak of slavery, they often think of it in a historical context. But today, tens of millions of people are enslaved worldwide — many of the victims, children — via human trafficking. And it isn’t something limited to Third World nations few can find on a map.

“It’s the second largest illegal industry in the U.S.,” said local activist Dar Christianson. “Drugs are number one, and human trafficking/exploitation is number two.”

In fact, she said, Florida has the third highest number of human trafficking and child exploitation cases in the country.

“This is happening not over there, but here,” Christianson said.

One of the Davids to this Goliath is Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), a nonprofit inspired by the history of the Underground Railroad of the 1800s. Courageous Americans who helped slaves reach freedom through this network were called “conductors,” a name borrowed by OUR volunteers around the globe as they educate their communities and work to end human trafficking.

Saturday, Jan. 20, Christianson and others from the OUR Northeast Florida Conductors’ Club were at Seawalk Pavilion, Jacksonville Beach, for LocalFest.

“We’re here to bring awareness to our community about human trafficking and tell people who we are,” said Christianson. “We want to educate our community, our parents, our citizens on what’s going on in our area and give them the skills in order to protect their children.”

LocalFest organizers donated the spot for the club to set up its table.

“We’re getting a lot of people coming up and saying, ‘Thank you for being here; thank you for bringing this subject to the forefront,’” Christianson said.

Though it’s not a happy subject, Christianson said it’s one people must talk about.

The club shared five tips for keeping children safe:

  • Educate yourself: ourrescue.org has a resource page offering information that can be shared with children.
  • Set safety guidelines online: Monitor children’s online activity. Turn off locations on the phone. Don’t give out personal information. Don’t share pictures with people you don’t know.
  • Be active in your children’s lives: Know their friends, where they hang out and who they are talking to. Make your home a safe place where they can talk with you about anything.
  • Teach children to be aware of their surroundings: Tell them to put their phones away and be aware at all times.
  • Be aware of odd behavior: If a child seems suddenly withdrawn, is losing weight or seems depressed or stressed, you may need to take action.

To learn more about the local Conductors’ Club, go to facebook.com/groups/ournortheastfloridaconductorclub.