Wandering through our hometowns, we sometimes might think of crime as an afterthought –— when we hear a police car screaming down the main avenue, or when a car alarm goes off during the night. We don’t want to suspect that in the condo next door is someone trapped against their will; that the attendants at our hotels, at our spas, did not choose their life’s path. These unsavory stories, if uncovered, only become brief headlines and sadly, recede from the public memory. Could you move beyond the headline; would you know who to call if you suspected the worst?
Coming to Las Cruces in February, courtesy of the Paso Del Norte Center of Hope, is SOLD: The Human Trafficking Experience, a free to the public, multi-sensory event that will let participants be immersed into the lives of nine different victims in different countries in the world, including the USA.
While numbers are difficult to determine, it is important to note that victims of human trafficking come from both inside and outside the United States. These victims are found in massage parlors, truck stops, or even in online classifieds, among many other places. Under US Federal Law, human trafficking is defined as the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining a person for labor, services, or commercial sex acts by means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploitation, involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, slavery or an commercial sex act involving a minor.
We may want to believe that this is only in bigger cities, but even in Las Cruces, there are similar situations. In one case from 2012, a federal judge in Las Cruces sentenced two hotel owners for misdemeanor convictions for aiding and abetting undocumented aliens to elude examination or inspection. Another case in 2011 had a Las Cruces massage parlor serving as a front for prostitution where some of the workers may have been sex trafficking victims.
Terrifying also is the lack of willingness that New Mexicans seem to have when it comes to rousing the alarm. In 2013, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, only 117 New Mexicans called the center’s hotline number, compared to 2,236 in Texas and 3,083 in California. “Southern New Mexico is an area ripe for human trafficking to occur since we have two major and one minor international ports of entry,” said Rosa Silva, a volunteer for the Paso Del Norte Center of Hope and coordinator for the SOLD exhibit in Las Cruces. “We have direct access to I-10 which has been labeled as a major human trafficking corridor, and we have a high rate of poverty.”
Silva believes that the exhibit will not be a direct outreach toward those trapped in situations of forced labor or sexual coercion, but the Center of Hope’s effort is focused on educating the community. “We want to bring up an awareness so people know what to look out for it,” said Silva. “If we get the community involved, we would have a higher success rate of being able to identity victims or for the victims to call for help.”
Silva continued, “Human trafficking is a crime against an individual. It is frequently mistaken for human smuggling which is a crime against a country’s border. Human trafficking is not a third world country issue; it is a global issue that affects us both nationally and locally.”
SOLD: The Human Trafficking Experience was an exhibit created at Bethel Church in Washington in 2012. Since then, the exhibit has toured the Northwest and will now be shown for the first time in Las Cruces. SOLD will be held at The Grapevine Plaza, 3900 W. Picacho, in Las Cruces on starting on Saturday, February 21, and running to Wednesday, February 25. On Saturday and Sunday, SOLD will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. On Monday through Wednesday, it will be open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. viewings by appointment only.
The exhibit is free to the public and visitors are encouraged to spend at least an hour exploring it. The experience will be shocking and unsettling for most attendees, and children under 13 are strongly encouraged not to come. Copies of the script are available for parents and caregivers who would like to review it before making a decision if their children should attend. Also, a warning for those with previous history of sexual abuse, certain scenes may be traumatizing.
SOLD was built to provoke visitors and break the barriers beyond the headlines. Attendees will hear stories inspired by researched true events. Each room will have a separate story: from assassins in Mexico to child soldiers in South Sudan, among others. The goal of the exhibit is for people who attend to leave with having a better understanding of the global situation that may be in their backyards, and that it ultimately drives people to action.
For the exhibit in Las Cruces, volunteers are still needed. Shifts are three hours and food will be provided. To sign up, contact Sarah MacLennan, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Rosa Silva at 312-8817. To find more information about the exhibit, and the state of human trafficking around the world, visit soldexp.org. If you suspect any activity that might indicate human trafficking, you are urged to call the Human Trafficking National Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.