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OCU Student Taking Action Against Trafficking

Passion without action is useless, particularly when trying to fight back locally against human trafficking in the sex trade.

That was the message Circleville native and recent Ohio Christian University graduate Natasha Hudnell conveyed Tuesday to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and a roundtable of college leaders, area economic development officials and representatives of local governments conducted by Portman on the OCU campus.

Hudnell, 22, working with the blessing of OCU President Mark Smith, has been leading the charge to energize the student body to help put a stop to trafficking in the area and to create a coordinated student and general community response to the issue. Toward that end, she has put herself into positions both locally and abroad to witness firsthand the lives affected by trafficking.

“I spent three months in Amsterdam (recently) working in red light districts with women who were currently trafficked there,” Hudnell said. “This passion stems from being here at OCU. I first heard about human trafficking when I was 11, which also is the average age of a person who is trafficked in Ohio. I don’t know how many of you know 11- or 12-year-olds, but that blows my mind.

“So when I addressed Dr. Smith and said this is something we need to change — as Christians, as a faith community — we need to look at this and address this, and so we did. Dr. Smith has been overly generous in giving us anything and everything to equip us so that we can be fighting this issue.”

Smith recalls the day Hudnell approached him and — with the help of other students such as Emily Swedberg and Orlene Batista, who joined Hudnell at Tuesday’s roundtable — educated him about the issue.

“I began to listen, and you don’t know it, but right here in Pickaway County, we have two or three sites where trafficking goes on,” Smith said. “Our students are aware, and they’ve informed me. It’s all across Ohio — it’s Columbus, it’s Cleveland, it’s Toledo — and you begin to see that and you get to hear them.

“We’ve got a serious problem. Natasha helped me see this and helped start this (response program).”

Getting students involved has not been a problem, Hudnell said, and the effort that’s been developed in the past year or so is about going beyond just talking about the issue at the college. The students have been active in taking the message to residents of Circleville and the surrounding area as well.

“What we’re doing is not just raising awareness on campus, we’re not just trying to invite students or pushing them to do this,” Hudnell said. “The students already care, which is why I think OCU is such an amazing incubator for passion with (regard to) human trafficking.”

Hudnell said they’ve had as many as 80 students directly involved at any one time in the effort and estimated that, at one time or another, nearly every person on campus has played a role of some sort.

There’s plenty for them to do. Hudnell said they are preparing students to reach out and minister once or twice a week to women who she said are being trafficked at truck stops along major highways in the region.

“We want to be there,” she said. “We don’t want to just stand up here and talk about it or sit at a roundtable and have a discussion. We’re actually in the gutters. We’re there. We have 30 to 40 students involved in local outreach. We work (to minister to women) in local strip clubs.

“That’s what we’ve been doing, is connecting with girls and helping get them to see that there’s another way that we can help them out.”

The program being developed involves three major focuses, Hudnell said.

The first is prevention, which involves getting into the local schools and helping students of all ages learn to work through socioeconomic issues, drug dangers and other factors that lead some down the path to being trafficked.

Second is aftercare, or providing those rescued from trafficking with the knowledge and resources to keep from going back. That, Hudnell said, is where the new Southern Gateway Economic Innovation Development Center planned for OCU can be useful in helping provide business skills not only for budding entrepreneurs but also to help foster an independence in former trafficking victims looking to start a new life for themselves.

Using students involved in psychology programs, business programs and other disciplines at the college as available resources can help in that aftercare function as well, Hudnell said.

Finally, working out partnerships between local organizations to address drug issues that sometimes lead to children being trafficked by parents makes up the final prong of the attack.

It’s important to remember, Hudnell concluded, that oftentimes the women who become involved in trafficking are not necessarily whom society paints them to be and that they often want help.

“Generally, they’re mothers who are trying to feed their children,” she said. “Or they have a husband or boyfriend who is pimping them. None of them are there by choice. None of them choose this lifestyle. None of them are happy to be doing what they’re doing. There’s this view that they’re all drug addicts fueling drug addiction, and I haven’t found that to be true.”