Five UVA Law Students Travel to Liberia on BLSA Service Trip to Fight Human Trafficking
Five University of Virginia School of Law students traveled to Monrovia, Liberia, in early January to raise awareness of and prevent human trafficking in the West African country. The students, members of the Black Law Students Association, performed the service work through U.S.-based pro bono and advocacy group Lawyers Without Borders.
The BLSA students shared educational materials provided by Lawyers Without Borders with schools, non-governmental organizations and other groups in the impoverished nation's capital as part of a campaign to fight forced labor and sexual exploitation.
"We wanted to spread the word so that everyone would know what human trafficking looks like, and that its perpetrators can be prosecuted," said second-year law student Tawnie Gulizia.
In addition to distributing such items as graphic novels, coloring books and flyers on the topic of trafficking, the students also scripted two 10-minute radio dramas outlining basic facts about what constitutes human trafficking and distinguishes it from related crimes such as smuggling. The spots included contact information for the public to report trafficking and for victims to get help.
"It was more than just explaining what human trafficking looks like, and how you report it," said second-year law student Christopher Knight. "We had to explain legal concepts like intent and purpose to a number of people who had never considered these issues before."
Knight said the concept of immunity was also a critical one. Often, he said, female victims of human trafficking are forced into prostitution, yet fear they will be prosecuted for their involvement.
"If you want to start cracking down on trafficking, it's really important for people to understand that being forced against your will to commit a crime is not the same as voluntarily committing a crime," Knight said.
The students also visited the Carter Center, Action Aid Liberia, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee and Plan International as part of their campaign — organizations whose missions aren't expressly tied to trafficking.
"We were able to help the NGOs see how human trafficking and its associated issues could be meaningfully folded into their existing mission, and how they could use the resources of Lawyers Without Borders," said Zachary Ray, a first-year law student.