Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Paola.FernandezGrados@colorado.edu.
Child sex trafficking is a prominent issue on a global scale, and it only continues to proliferate.
In 2014, the profit of the underground sex economy in Denver, Colorado was at an estimated $39.9 million. Nationally, the United States sees up to 300,000 minors lured into the sex trade industry annually.
iEmphathize is a Boulder non-profit organization working to eradicate child exploitation. Mark Brende, a coordinator at the organization, said the issue is significantly impacting young teens.
“The average age of entry into the world of trafficking is 12 to 14 years of age. There are thousands upon thousands of victims across the U.S. being exploited, and most of them start out as teenagers,” said Mark Brende, a coordinator at iEmpathize.
iEmpathize hopes to educate and empower people of all ages in order to explore solutions to this issue. This also includes instructing those who are at the intersections of exploitation, including schools and surprisingly, the trucking industry.
“The are about 2.4 million truck drivers on the road in the U.S. and they have been targets of traffickers for decades,” Brende said.
iEmpathize’s objective is to engage the truckers in such a way that will invoke empathy, making them understand that these victims are people who do not want to be there.
The organization is working to give educational material to fleet owners and safety directors who bring the information back to their bases. According to Brende, as a result, the trucking industry has become the number one demographic intervening on the behalf of the children being exploited.
“This is one example of how the organization has seen great success,” Brende said.
iEmpathize has partnered with high schools and middle schools as well. They have created a curriculum that helps educators facilitate a conversation to help students navigate negative situations in their work, social and home spaces. This curriculum is currently in effect in 13 states in the U.S. The organization hopes to see a ripple effect, in which the curriculum will be a mandatory part of every school district.
“The concept of empathy is in all of our material. It’s the idea that where there’s exploitation, you’re going to find apathy. But the opposite is also true — where you find empathy, you find intervention, you find restoration, justice and a movement of hope for those that are being exploited,” Brende said.
The organization also engages university students across campuses across the country by bringing them “The Apathy Effect.” The exhibit tells stories from around the world through the use of original photography and film, and through authentic artifacts taken from the locations of survivors of exploitation and of their advocates. iEmpathize sees this as an opportunity for students to ask themselves relevant questions regarding how their life may intersect with this issue, what they can do to make a difference and spread knowledge.
“These students are our future leaders, our future legislators, educators, you name it. We need to empower them just as much as we would any other intersection,” Brende said.
“The Apathy Effect” exhibit will be showcased at the Colorado State Capitol from Feb. 23 to 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is open to the public, with an option to book an iEmpathize event. For more information, visit their website.