During a forum Thursday, Irie Session gave University of North Texas students a reason to care about sex trafficking.
Women involved in prostitution often have a past of sexual abuse, and one in three women is sexually abused, said Session, who works with Dallas-based New Friends New Life, an organization helping women get out of the sex industry.
“That’s how real this is,” Session said. “That’s why we should care.”
The forum — “Sex Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery” — was presented by the UNT College of Public Affairs and Community Service.
“The concept [of the forum] is to get students exposure to something beyond their major,” said Tom Evenson, dean of the college. Students chose this topic after last year’s forum on bullying.
Two women who were in the sex industry shared their stories with students. One said she felt like she had no other options. The other said it happened gradually. They were able to get out of the industry.
“Both of these amazing women are pursuing their dreams,” Session said. “They needed someone to care.”
Session led a panel discussion with Melissa Miles, senior assistant city attorney in Dallas; Addison police Sgt. Mike Vincent; Brooke Grona-Rob, an assistant district attorney in Dallas County; and Katie Pedigo, executive director of New Friends New Life.
The panel called sex trafficking the human rights issue of this age.
Miles and Vincent said it goes on in Dallas. Some spas and massage parlors are used as a cover for brothels, they said.
Miles emphasized the need for a paradigm shift from focusing on the women to focusing on the men who support the industry.
“Until we’re ready to talk about that, we’re never going to break the surface on this issue,” she said.
Vincent said people who live in the suburbs need to admit that the problem exists.
It’s a tricky issue with many layers, he said. Law enforcement agencies find it easier to ignore, rather than address, the problem of sex trafficking because of limited resources. Also, they don’t want to tell people there is a brothel a couple blocks from their house, he said.
The panelists talked about the common stereotype that sex trafficking is a victimless crime.
Grona-Rob said it’s been labeled a choice by too many.
“I’ve met her in every race, in every color, in every age,” she said. “She’s a victim and she often doesn’t know she’s a victim.”
The panelists encouraged the students to get involved.
UNT student Taylor Haymour, who is studying social work, said the forum was interesting.
“I’d never thought about it that way,” she said.
But Haymour said she wished they’d talked about international trafficking.
The panelists agreed law enforcement, government officials and nonprofit agencies must work together to help people who are victims of sex trafficking.
Pedigo said helping them takes a holistic, transformational approach.
“We as a culture need to step up,” she said.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .