Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Melrose Church Spotlights Modern Day Slavery with Freedom Sunday

By Amanda C. Thompson and Alysa Obert
Gordon College News Service
February 17, 2010
(This story appeared February 18 in the Boston Globe, Melrose edition.)

When Sarah Sotelo, a member of Hope Alliance Church in Melrose, tells people about human trafficking here in Boston, the response is often the same: confusion.  

“It amazes me how many people still say ‘That's really happening?’ when I tell them about the problem,” said Sotelo, who says Boston is in the top 15 trafficking hubs throughout the U.S.


Sotelo and fellow members of Hope Alliance Church will join hundreds of other congregations throughout the country this Sunday, February 21, as they shine a spotlight on modern day slavery in the first ever Freedom Sunday. Organized by the international movement known as Not For Sale, a global campaign that fights to free modern slaves in our own backyards and around the world, Freedom Sunday will expose the atrocities of modern day slavery and invite members to participate in the emancipation process. And in the next few months, many Jewish and Muslim communities will follow suit with their own versions of Freedom Sunday.

“We all have a role to play in ending this,” said Sarah Durfey, co-state director of the Massachusetts chapter of Not For Sale. “It doesn’t matter what faith background you are. You can say that people should not be for sale.”

Anita Coco, Massachusetts’ other co-state director (pictured here), said the American public often contributes to the problem without even knowing it. “The American public expects to buy goods for cheap,” she said. “This expectation motivates corporations to use unethical methods of production.”

But Not For Sale is already making waves in churches, communities, and even the federal government, which has recently passed legislation to deal with human trafficking in the U.S.  And the organization’s Freedom Sunday event will even take place globally, connecting thousands of churches from Canada to Australia. The group also has a presence in India, which Durfey says is a huge victory for the abolitionists.

“There are a lot more churches than brothels in Boston,” Durfey said. “But you can’t say the same for India. Thousands are being exploited there.”

The idea behind the Not For Sale campaign is to help people put passions, talents and resources toward the cause. Simply raising awareness and hosting fundraisers are effective means to addressing the problem, but one of the best ways Durfey says to fight slavery is to know its face and report anything suspect to law enforcement.

“If you see something that seems out of place, don’t assume there must be an explanation,” said Brant Christopher, a musician whose Backyard Abolitionist Tour hit Boston last fall. “It’s probably not okay.”

This means Not For Sale is helping people better understand the issue. “We are training people to investigate,” said Coco, who says an FBI agent is working in the area hoping to show traffickers that people know and care that the things they're doing are wrong.

The abolitionists aren’t looking for superheroes; they’re looking for social inertia. “We want to create momentum so that people will demand change,” said Durfey.

Members from Hope Alliance see the issue as so important they are considering opening a safe house for women escaping from slavery. Sotelo says there are many other national organizations getting involved, ready to arm communities with the information they need to help fight a problem most don’t know about.

“My husband and I had an interest in learning about human trafficking, but it wasn’t until we started attending Hope Alliance that we realized this is affecting the Boston area as well,” Sotelo said. “It was quite a wake up call.”

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