Story by William Cox

Photos by Abby Sun

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), there are 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor or forced prostitution around the world. The problem is very real here at home as well. Every year countless children are taken from their homes and forced into this seedy world. A UO student group called Slavery Still Exists aims to educate people about  slavery in the modern world and how to take a stand against it.

Slavery Still Exists started in 2007 when UO student Huston Hedinger began putting on events to raise awareness about the issue. Ethos sat down with current president Kristin Rudolph to talk about the group’s evolution since Hedinger’s time.

Will Cox: How did you rise up in the ranks?

Kristin Rudolph: I went to the first event Huston put on and that got me latched onto the issue. I heard about some of the horrors of trafficking in Asia and I wanted to help. So that’s how I got involved. [Fellow UO student] Jenn Gubbe and I took over last year and it is just me this year, so here I am. It has been a process where I feel passionately about it and am trying to get students involved.

WC: We’re checking in about a year after Ethos last ran a story about Slavery Still Exists. How has the organization changed since then?

KR: Well, a year ago we had [former UO adjunct professor] Bill Hillar as one of our guest speakers. Just six months after his visit, we found out that Hillar’s stories about his personal experiences weren’t true. People are trafficked in the same way as he talked about, but he wasn’t actually directly linked to what he said he was. That was just very interesting for us to experience one of our mentors not being who he said he was. We have definitely grown in the sense that we have been able to branch out to local people doing really good work about the issue.

We have also been able to develop some very strong relationships in Portland as well. I have seen it become just a great opportunity for students to get involved all over the state.

WC: How has the exposure of Bill Hillar affected SSE?

KR: It was something we didn’t see coming. Bill came in and said: “This is an issue and you can do something about it just like I am.” It was a “you can do anything you set your mind to” attitude. Even though he came out as a fraud, we still stand by that belief that anyone can make a difference.

This coming from a person in his supposed position really meant a lot to people in our group. So it has been discouraging but it kind of made us realize how much we have accomplished in spite of everything. It has forced us to reach out more into the local community and highlight other people who are truly doing good work. It has been a challenge but overall we have grown quite a bit because of it.

WC: Earlier you mentioned ties in Portland. What kind of people and organizations has the group worked with up there?

KR: In the Portland and Seattle area, we have worked with organizations called Compassion 2 One and what is now known as Called to Rescue. These are groups putting together shelters and raising awareness. Cyndi Romine of Called to Rescue came down to Eugene and did a training session about how we can detect trafficking in places like the Valley River Center or Gateway Mall and how to report it. We have  worked with some officers in Portland who have dealt with cases regarding human trafficking and also brought in some attorneys who have prosecuted pimps.

WC: Last week was Slavery Still Exists Week. Is this your public hurrah for the year or do like to spread yourselves out?

KR: We tend to have a spring focus. It’s a pretty depressing issue so we tend to try to avoid winter as much as we can. Although we do movie screenings throughout the year, spring tends to be our biggest time. However, we have definitely talked about doing more types of events throughout the year.

WC: Do you have any other events coming up?

KR: At 5 p.m. Thursday, May 26 in McKenzie 214, well be having our last monthly meeting of the year. We’re hoping to bring in some detectives from Eugene to talk about a human trafficking case that they unearthed and prosecuted locally. We will also be holding elections then so if anyone wants to get  involved in the cause it is the place to be.

WC: After you leave, how do you see this organization carrying on?

KR: There have been a lot of improvements this year to the organizational structure of the group. We have switched to once a month meetings where we’re going to pull in guest speakers. So now it’s not every spring we bring in big names but every month we bring in people to talk about different avenues to the issue. We focus on sex trafficking but we have started to branch out into labor trafficking and trafficking of organs. I see a lot of potential with the group and with some new leadership as I graduate, I just cannot wait to see what new people do with it.