Getting a teenager to stay in place for even five seconds may seem impossible, but over a hundred of them froze-in-place for a full five minutes at the Gateway Mall Olympic Fountain last week.
“We are here to raise awareness of human trafficking,” Mikaela Jenson said, a dual-enrolled Paradigm High School and Salt Lake Community College student who attended.
At the sound of a whistle from their teacher, the hundred plus students froze, most of them kneeling, with their hands crossed behind their backs as if in handcuffs in reference to their cause – human slavery.
Reactions to the latest craze in peaceful social awareness or “freeze mob” were varied. Some threw out questioning expletives, while others stared uncomfortably and wondered if they had somehow been thrown into a science fiction movie.
The organizers are Brad and Monica Manuel, and the inspiration to bring it to the students came from their daughter, Angelica. They are also the co-founders of Operation 61, a non-profit formed to raise awareness and funds for human sex and slave trafficking.
Jeremy Daniels, a junior at Paradigm shared with us these interesting statistics: Over 25 million people globally are estimated to be involved in human trafficking; up to 300 thousand are taken every year; and in Utah alone, there are over 200 proven cases.
This number can be misleading, as the proving and convicting of trafficking can be tricky for police. Often the crime leaders use force, debt and drugs to maintain financial, physical and psychological control of those they have either seduced or abducted into slavery.
The victims are promised lucrative jobs in the United States, and then when they arrive, they have no way out. Not speaking the language and being completely cut off from their friends and family, they are isolated and alone. It is hard to imagine that a number greater than the population of New York are being bought and sold as slaves to this day, and within the borders of the United States.
Operation 61’s mission is to reach, rescue and restore those who were once involved in the sex or slave industry. The organizers were inspired by the 2008 movie Taken where a young girl, visiting France for the summer, is abducted and then sold for sex trafficking.
Unfortunately, most of these girls and boys do not have Liam Neeson, an ex-FBI agent for a father, who risks it all to rescue his daughter.
This is where Operation 61 comes in. According to Daniel Royer, the Creative Director for Operation 61, Utah is a “gateway east to west” that many of the perpetrators use to transport the “goods” or “people.” That makes Utah a perfect place to set up safe houses.
Operation 61’s aim is to be able to provide job training, safety and resources to help the affected, mainly women and single moms. With events like freezing for freedom, they hope to raise awareness and funds of this growing social problem.
Anyone wanting more information or ways to help can visit operation61.org for more information.
The point was to get people to pay attention, and the people at the fountain that day did.