International Justice Mission speaks on mission in GR
The International Justice Mission's efforts against human trafficking gained recognition this month by winning the Michigan Liberator Award. The organization aims to spread awareness and take action against human trafficking worldwide as well as in the greater Grand Rapids area.
The Liberator Award is issued by Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.), an outreach group that spreads awareness and helps those who have been in trafficking. Theresa Flores, the founder of S.O.A.P., spoke at Grand Valley State University in September through invitation by the International Justice Mission.
"I think it's something that if we had more members, if we had a larger group, we could do more, so that's why we're definitely looking for people to get involved, and it's not a huge time commitment," said Rachael Rutkoswki, president of IJM. "It's just about being educated and being willing to face these dark things and put goodness and light into it and try and stop it, and try and fight it the best we can as students."
Rutkowski feels IJM is important because there are not many people who know the truth about human trafficking, even more so the fact that West Michigan is a hot bed for it.
"We try to highlight a lot of West Michigan because that's home for us,” she said. “The entering age for prostitution is 12-14 years old in America...I would want someone to fight for me if I were in that position and that's why I fight for them."
Melissa Gato, IJM treasurer, said she decided to become involved after learning that human trafficking is a global epidemic.
"I knew human trafficking existed, but I didn't think of it here in America, and I didn't think there was anything I could do to help,” Gato said. “IJM opened my eyes to the reality of human trafficking, gave me volunteer opportunities and taught me to do more research on the things I was buying."
According to Women at Risk International, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit organization, an estimated 2,400 adolescents are currently for sale in West Michigan.
Rutkowski added that human trafficking is more prominent during large events such as ArtPrize and the Detroit International Auto Show. ArtPrize alone brings in over 400,000 people in the two weeks that it is hosted, and the quick hotel stays and business inquiries spark more opportunities for prostitution.
"We give people opportunities to be educated and to get involved and give back in ways that they can...it allows us to educate, and tell them how really (prostitution) is usually not a choice and bring light to that,” Rutkowski said.
IJM is hosting an event called Tunnel of Oppression on Feb. 5 in the Kirkhof Center. For more information, contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.