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Rowan College at Burlington County faculty, students benefit victims of human trafficking through Zumba


On Dec. 10, some Rowan College at Burlington County faculty members and students literally got moving to benefit victims of human trafficking when they held a Zumba fitness class at the Mt. Laurel YMCA.

Instead of a participation fee, entrance to the class came in exchange for the donation of a new piece of winter clothing that could be donated to those who were victims of human trafficking.

RCBC Psychology Coordinator and Lecturer Syreeta Washington, who is also a licensed Zumba instructor, taught the class with fellow faculty member and Zumba instructor Jennifer Ferrell, with the college’s Educational Opportunity Fund acting as a co-sponsor for the event.

Washington said the idea to use the class to benefit the victims of human trafficking came through her background in working with youth in foster care and non-profit management, as well as her work with the school’s EOF program and its women’s empowerment series.

“We wanted to find a way to contribute and give back,” Washington said.

Dec. 10 was specifically chosen in observance of Human Rights Day, which commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first worldwide proclamation of civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights to which all humans are inherently entitled.

According to Washington, victims of human trafficking are very often in desperate need of clothing items, with the task forces and FBI agents investigating the cases prohibited from giving the victims anything for fear of compromising those cases.

“These young girls and sometimes even young boys are taken from the streets inappropriately dressed for the weather, or for just basic walking around — girls who wear high heeled shoes for five or six hours who just need a pair of sneakers,” Washington said.

Washington noted that clothing donations are also useful for when victims are being interviewed by detectives, as oftentimes victims are scantily clad, which interferes with their ability to contribute to the interview.

“Even just having the ability to put a sweatshirt on at the time that they’re being interviewed can make a big difference,” Washington said.

However, Washington made sure to note that victims of sexual trafficking should not be confused with prostitution.

“If you’re under the age of 18 and you’re being used either for labor or sex trafficking against your will, you’re not a prostitute,” Washington said. “It’s an issue that we’d like to bring light to just to let the public know that it’s more common than you think.”

RCBC EOF consular Mona Davis also attended the event and said with extreme levels of human trafficking near Atlantic City and the northeast corridor, the issue was definitely worth highlighting.

“It’s a whole effort of all the students just desiring to give back to the community,” Davis said.

In the short-term, Washington said she was interested in raising money and collecting donations on a larger scale in January, perhaps with another Zumba event, and anyone interesting in joining that effort could contact her at swashington@bcc.edu.

In the long-term, Washington said those interested in supporting the victims of human trafficking can do so by supporting the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking — a collection of groups that work to provide education and assistance to survivors.

For more information on the group, visit www.njhumantrafficking.org.

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