Coming from very different experiences as young women, members of Ohio State’s Women’s Glee Club met with former victims of sex trafficking at a Columbus Salvation Army and made necklaces.
This weekend, they’ll don those necklaces as a symbolic gesture of solidarity during their performance in Concept: Freedom, a choral festival centered around human trafficking, .
Concept: Freedom is aimed serve as a platform to educate and inform the public about human trafficking, motivate people to action and provide ways to get involved in Ohio. The three-day summit will be host to a plethora of events from Thursday through Saturday.
“We start with education and then we move to challenging ourselves to say, ‘What are you going to do?’ and then we conclude with some opportunities that are real, tangible and very close to home,” said Kristina MacMullen, assistant director of choral activities at Ohio State and conductor of the Women’s Glee Club.
MacMullen said Ohio is fifth in the country for reported cases of human trafficking, and Toledo is fourth as far as cities go.
“We have more truck stops … per capita than any other state I think and those often serve as hotbeds for this kind of activity,” she said. “The average age is 12-14 for girls and 11-13 for boys. It’s shocking. And so many of them stop going to school at that point. They don’t have the resources to get a job, they have a criminal record, they’ve been picked up for solicitation 15 times. You’re not going to get a job. So their options are limited.”
Thursday started the festival off with a screening of “Very Young Girls,” a film about the sexual exploitation involved in human trafficking produced by Rachel Lloyd, a human trafficking activist, will be shown at 8 p.m. in Hughes Auditorium Thursday.
“(Lloyd) really is a national and international authority,” MacMullen said. “It’s an opportunity not to be missed and it’s for anybody.”
The Women’s Glee Club will perform several pieces to accompany the chapters from Lloyd’s book, “Girls Like Us,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Weigel Hall Auditorium, followed by a speech by Lloyd.
“I conduct the Women’s Glee Club and so for several years I’ve wanted to marry what I do as an artist with the concerns I have for the world around me,” MacMullen said. “I have the opportunity to work with 60 women who are going to be future leaders and future pioneers. I recognize that I’m not going to free a victim myself. I can’t go downtown and help someone get off of the track. I’m not skilled to do that, but I do have the opportunity to take the blinders off of my students’ eyes, and I feel like we have a responsibility to do that and also as artists, I think we have a responsibility to use our art as a platform to express something.”
The festival chorus, which will be composed of women from young to old, is set to perform at 4 p.m. Saturday. The event will be catered by Freedom a la Cart, a company that employs former victims of human trafficking.
“I am so honored to be part of such a huge collaboration and I am so excited that I get to be part of this movement that will build awareness in Central Ohio about this pressing human rights issue,” said Amy Sylvester, a fourth-year in strategic communication and member of the Women’s Glee Club. “As the performance approaches, I am excited and thrilled that people will be coming to the event and I hope that their eyes would be open to this pressing human rights issue.”
Saturday will feature a buffet of events catering to different interests along with the choral festival. The list includes a photography exhibit by OSU alumna Eileah Ohning in Sullivant Hall, a fashion show called “Unchained” by “Project Runway” designer Korto Momolu at 8 p.m. in Weigel Auditorium, and a self-defense class.
Ohning’s artwork will be sold to help pay for the de-branding of victims through Survivors Ink, a local organization created by Jennifer Kempton that removes or tattoos over gang sign and “property of” tattoos often used to mark victims of human trafficking so a customer knows who to pay.
“When you are trying to begin a new life and every time you look in the mirror you see a gang sign on your neck, any time you take a shower you see ‘property of,’ there’s a psychological bondage to that,” MacMullen said. “The chains may not be physically seen, but they’re very real and more powerful … the applicants apply and with a $50-$75 fee, they can have a new tattoo that covers the old tattoo or the tattoo removed.”
Other speakers include representatives from Body Sense to discuss body image and ownership, Judge Paul Herbert, creator of CATCH Court which rehabilitates prostitutes, staff from the Justice for Children Project, Lisa Cravens Brown from OSU’s Gender and Sexuality department, who will discuss Stockholm syndrome and trauma bonding, the Salvation Army, and Natalie Spiert from the OSU Student Advocacy Center who will talk about healing after assault.
“It’s an opportunity, it’s agency for action,” MacMullen said. “If you don’t know anything, we’ll come and help you learn, if you do, we’ll help you get into action.”
Admission to “Unchained” is $10 for students and $15 for the public. All other events are free admission.