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Forum to address human slavery in the Valley
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Sex trafficking and human slavery are not things that most Central Valley residents would consider a local issue, but an upcoming conference at Patterson Covenant Church might make them think otherwise.

“Freedom Forum 2011, Creating Awareness on Human Trafficking and Slavery,” will highlight worldwide and local aspects of human trafficking. Mary Nella McLaughlin, former pastor of Patterson Covenant and an organizer of the conference, said that trafficking and slavery happen right here in Northern California. New Day, a nonprofit organization, runs a refuge house at a secret location in the Valley. The shelter houses women who were forced into prostitution or kept as slaves in the San Francisco area.

“This really is a local issue. We are hoping to raise awareness not just for sex trafficking and slavery, but for helping the people who are affected by it,” McLaughlin said.

Speakers at the Freedom Forum will include Cathy Wilson from New Day, who will talk about the shelter and give a talk called “slavery in our own backyard.” Other organizations will present lectures on international sex trafficking, human slavery and related topics.

 McLaughlin said that members of Patterson Covenant Church attended a similar forum in San Francisco, and it inspired them to create this event in Patterson.

“They came back inspired by the information, the teenagers who attended are now really galvanized by the issue,” McLaughlin said.

In addition to holding their own forum, members of Patterson Covenant Church are hoping to educate people about the main reasons why human slavery exists. One big issue, McLaughlin said, is that products are made using actual slaves who were kidnapped or sold into the trade. She said that some of the teens who are taking up this issue use a Smartphone application to look up products in stores to see if any of the parts were made using slave labor.

“That’s one thing people can do, find out what products are made using slave labor and not use them,” McLaughlin said.

She compared this movement to the abolition movement to end slavery of African Americans. According to Freedom Forum literature, there are an estimated 27 million people kept as slaves in the world today, more than any other time in history.

“I’m shocked that we’re back to where we were 150 years ago,” McLaughlin said.

The goal of the Freedom Forum is to bring awareness to sex trafficking and slavery, and educate the public about activism.

“It’s very, very hard to come out of your apathy. But all it takes is good people standing up and saying ‘no more,’” McLaughlin said.

The valley wide conference will also include an ethical trade gift boutique, craft items that are produced by women for a fair price. The Freedom Forum will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 7 at Patterson Covenant Church, 435 Las Palmas Ave. The conference is free and the church will provide lunch to participants at no cost, but they request an RSVP so they know how many meals to provide. Call Sherry at 456-1260 or e-mail Michelle at to respond.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.