Activities & Organizations News

Students fight human trafficking one lipstick tube at a time


The Modern Abolitionist Coalition will continue to collect lipsticks at all of its events this year. | Jasmine Davis/ The Cougar

An event on Friday from the organization Modern Abolitionist Coalition, “Skip the Traffick,” sought to educate students on the reality of human trafficking in Houston and how they can fight it with a single tube of lipstick.

The event also featured food and an interpretive dance performance. Guest organizations included the nonprofits Redeemed Ministries, Unbound and United Against Human Trafficking.

“It’s still a very small percentage of the Earth’s population that gets affected by (human trafficking),” said Canyon Sanford, MAC’s director of outreach and partnership. “But there’s a very good chance you’ve seen it and didn’t even know, at the same time.”

MAC has also partnered with Elijah Rising, a nonprofit aiming to fight human trafficking through various outreach and intervention programs. One such effort involves replacing the bar codes on lipstick tubes with those that list the National Human Trafficking Hotline number.

During Friday’s event alone, MAC was able to collect 177 lipstick donations. The lipstick drive will continue at future MAC events and from their office in Student Center North.

Sanford, who said he has already brought his fair share of $0.97 Wet n Wild lipsticks, believes the lipstick drive is an easy, beneficial way for students to feel like they’re making an impact on behalf of an important cause.

“It helps get that number into their hands,” Sanford said. “If you have nothing else other than a dollar bill, you can already impact someone’s life.”

According to United Against Human Trafficking’s educational flyer, human trafficking is now the second-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Each year, the industry traffics an estimated 450,000 victims in the U.S. and generates $150 billion globally.

Human trafficking conjures up images being kidnapped or thrown into the trunk of a car. However, according to the presentation, victims are most often coerced into trafficking through relationships with others.

University students are at particularly high risk.

“Because of legislation that’s passed that makes it very easy to prosecute traffickers of minors, traffickers are targeting college students,” said Anna Catherine Purcell, MAC’s co-founder and awareness coordinator.

Houston has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the U.S., With the Super Bowl LI in February at NRG Stadium, those numbers are expected to increase.

“Every city that has the Super Bowl has a rise in human trafficking,” Sanford said. “But it’s Houston. We’re already number one or number two.”

Beginning in January, MAC will reach out to hotels in the Houston area and work with them to get the National Human Trafficking Hotline number into individual rooms and bathrooms.  

“Literally the event could not be big enough,” Sanford said. “If people at all are interested in volunteering for that, we would love to have them contact us.”

Tiffany Ewere, a health sophomore and member of MAC, said she has learned a great deal about human trafficking and some of its lesser known outlets since joining the organization.

“The most interesting thing I’ve learned is that there are a lot of brothels here in the Houston area that we don’t know are brothels,” Ewere said.

According to the presentation, there are more than 250 brothels in the Houston area that often pose as massage parlors.

Breanna Fetkavich, of the faith-based nonprofit Redeemed Ministries, said one of the keys to spotting these masquerading establishments is to look for the ones with unusually late business hours.

In addition to the main presentation, the event featured multiple displays showing actual depictions of human trafficking situations.

One display told the story of Taylor, a girl who fell victim to an online trafficker posing as a friend. As their online relationship progressed, the man began paying her to send him and his friends sexual content via Snapchat.

Another dealt with labor trafficking, focusing on Rizal, whose employer paid his way to the U.S. and then used threats of deportation to force him to work under extreme conditions.

“Coming from Austin, in a very sheltered neighborhood, I didn’t know this stuff really existed,” said Corina Burnett, a hotel and restaurant management junior.

Burnett said she was encouraged to attend the event by her sorority, Chi Omega, a big supporter of the lipstick drive at UH.

This semester is MAC’s first as a registered student organization, and as far as Purcell is concerned, it can only grow from here.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.

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