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Human Trafficking Conference Mar. 25 at Simmons College

BOSTON (February 23, 2006) — "Trafficking" — the highly secretive, illegal trade of humans for involuntary servitude—occurs daily in Boston and Massachusetts, say social service leaders, who will gather in Boston March 25 at Simmons College for a first-ever conference to shine a public light on the crisis.

The conference, "In Our Backyards: Modern Day Slavery and Trafficking," will include survivors and a wide range of social service, government, and educational leaders meeting to raise awareness of the problem in Massachusetts neighborhoods and create a forum for action.  The conference will be from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Simmons College, in the Linda K. Paresky Conference Center, 300 The Fenway.

Registration deadline for the conference, which is open to the public, is March 17; there is a $10 fee.  For more information or to register, contact Diane Hammer, at the Simmons Institute for Leadership and Change, at 617-521-2480, or

Conference organizers say that international human trafficking—estimated to be the third largest criminal activity in the world—gets the lion's share of attention, but humans also are routinely traded in Massachusetts, through illegal yet sophisticated networks that make it difficult for victims to seek help.

Trafficked people are forced to work with little or no pay or benefits, under the threat of violence, in such fields as domestic service, construction, and fisheries, as well as prostitution.  Typically the victims are members of large, poor immigrant populations who are promised good jobs as new immigrants, then forced to keep a low profile in involuntary servitude while their legal status remains questionable.

The conference is designed to educate the greater Boston community about the prevalence of human trafficking in Massachusetts and its root causes, and to begin discussion of solutions through community and government-based actions.

The conference is sponsored by Simmons College—its School of Social Work Urban Leadership Program, Institute for Leadership and Change, College of Arts and Sciences Department of Women's Studies, Center for Gender in Organizations of the Simmons School of Management, and the School of Health Sciences—as well as the Boston-based Trafficking Victims Outreach and Services (TVOS) Network.

Co-sponsors include the Safety\Net Project, Project RIGHT, El Encuentro:  Voices of Afro Latinos, and the South Asia Solidarity Network.

In Massachusetts, Gomez of the TVOS network said that over the past year and a half, the network alone has handled more than 50 cases of trafficked people, about half in domestic labor exploitation, one-fourth in sex slavery, and the rest in a variety of fields such as construction, restaurants, fisheries, and landscaping.

Trafficking experts estimate 14,000 to 17,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year and forced into labor or sex slavery for little or no pay and abused mentally and physically. The United Nations estimates 4 million people worldwide are held in slavery by threats of violence.

The  day's events at the March 25 trafficking conference include:

—8:15 a.m.:  Registration, continental breakfast and welcome

—9:15 a.m.:  Keynote address on "the Global and Local Context for Trafficking," by Gloria White-Hammond, pediatrician with the South End Community Health Center, co-pastor of Bethel AME Church, and board member of the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group.

White-Hammond has worked since 2001 traveling to Sudan to help purchase freedom of some 10,000 women in slavery, and helped form the group "My Sister's Keeper" to help the former trafficked victims become self-sufficient.

—9:45 a.m.: Panel on  "Who are the Victims of Trafficking?  Social and Cultural Implications of Trafficking for Individuals, Our Families and Our Communities"

Panelists include a survivor of trafficking in Massachusetts; Carol Gomez, founder/director of Trafficking Victims Outreach and Services Network; Johnnie Hamilton-Mason, MSW, PhD, Simmons School of Social Work professor; and Ra'Shaun Nalls, Coordinator of the Grove Hall Youth Workers Alliance of Project RIGHT.  

—12:00 noon:  lunch on your own, and entertainment by the East Boston Youth Program

—1:00 p.m.:  Panel "Strategies for Change:  Best Practices for Identifying and Helping Victims of Trafficking"

Panelists are Mark Montigny, state Senator from New Bedford who crafted state legislation to form a study commission on a needs assessment of trafficking in Massachusetts; Xanty Necoechea, MSW, immigrant advocate with the SafetyNet Program of the International Institute of Boston; and Chuck Turner, Boston City Councilor, chair of the council's Committee on Human Rights, and a long-time community organizer and civil rights activist.

—2:30 p.m.:  Wrap-up:  "Where Do We Go from Here?" led by Carol Bonner, associate dean of the Simmons School of Social Work