When people think of human trafficking, they often associate it with distant locales like Thailand or Eastern Europe, notes Elena Fesiuk, the director of Tears of Color, an organization working to educate the community about human trafficking. Unfortunately, however, victims of human trafficking — which the organization calls "the modern version of slavery" — are found across the country, closer to home than anyone would wish to acknowledge.
"North Carolina is a primary destination state," says Fesiuk: Victims (mostly teen girls) are brought to the state and used for labor and, most often, forced into prostitution, she explains. Most of these women are lured into slavery with false promises of work; many are runaways or come from troubled families, Fesiuk continues. And others are sold into sexual slavery. There are more than 27 million people living in slavery today, 80 percent of which are women, the organization reports.
In an effort educate the community and create a safe space to talk openly about this serious, emotionally weighted topic, Tears of Color will host a concert-for-a-cause called Abolishing: Human Trafficking, slated for Friday, May 7, at The Orange Peel. The evening will feature Americana/roots songstress Shannon Whitworth and pop/rock/classical-opera singer Mariya Fesiuk (sister in-law of Tears of Color's director). In addition, Center Stage Dance Studio will present a dance piece focusing on the issue of trafficking. Art donated by Blend Photography, Jonas Gerard, Bernie Smolnik Photography, Vadim Bora Studio-Gallery and Mozingo Photography will be auctioned throughout the evening.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the global organization The A21 Campaign, aimed at abolishing injustice in the 21st century, and will also support a Western North Carolina organization called the Hope House Project.
The Hope House shelters teenage women who were victims of human trafficking. The organization provides counseling, therapy and educational support for victims to help them recover from physical and psychological abuse. A video documentary focusing on the story of a young woman recently sheltered at the Hope House — an American teen whose father sold her into sexual slavery for $5,000 — will be screened, and a community discussion will follow.
"Her story is absolutely tragic," says Fesiuk. "This young girl began working for a pimp — 10 hours a night — starting at the age of 12." In sharing this story, Fesiuk hopes to "educate the community about this issue and tell people how they can get involved."
"It's shocking because you look at these girls and think, you should be getting ready for your prom, thinking about college, living a normal life," says Fesiuk, who works as a volunteer at the Hope House. "That's why it's so important for us to come together and stand up for this cause."
Abolishing: Human Trafficking will be held on Friday, May 7. The silent auction begins at 6 p.m. and the evening program kicks off at 7 p.m. at The Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave., Asheville). Cost: $15. Tickets: theorangepeel.net. For more information, see www.tearsofcolor.com, www.hopehousenc.com and www.thea21campaign.org.