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PHOTO BY RACHEL RICE  University of Texas students Emma DeCaro, left, and Becca Ritchie encourage students to sign up for the Stand for Freedom event March 5 at University of Texas-Austin.
PHOTO BY RACHEL RICE

University of Texas students Emma DeCaro, left, and Becca Ritchie encourage students to sign up for the Stand for Freedom event March 5 at University of Texas-Austin.

Emma DeCaro wants to inform her college – and the world – about the realities of modern slavery.

DeCaro, a junior at the University of Texas and a 2011 graduate of Lake Travis High School, discovered her passion for fighting slavery when she attended the 2013 International Justice Mission Conference in Atlanta.

DeCaro said she was stunned by slavery’s grip on millions of people worldwide.

“I feel like it’s a very common misconception about the fact that [slavery] still exists,” she said. “There are 27 million slaves in sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and when they are trafficked, they don’t have a voice. I feel like everyone should have a voice and be able to make their own decisions.”

The conference inspired DeCaro to make a difference at the University of Texas, where she majors in public relations. DeCaro, along with some of her peers, decided to take charge of UT’s 27-Hour Stand for Freedom. The 27-Hour Stand for Freedom on March 5-6 was an initiative by International Justice Mission meant to spread awareness of human trafficking.

Jaclyn Lesch, International Justice Mission student ministries program manager, said the 27-hour event is educating thousands of students about slavery – and what they can do to end it.

“Right now, we have over 500 colleges and universities signed up to take part in this event,” Lesch said. “UT has one of the largest ones with over 600 students signed up to stand. We want people to know about it because they can’t do something about what they don’t know about.”

DeCaro said she spent about a month coordinating the event by getting permits and talking to university administrators.

“No one is paying me or giving me resources; I’m just very passionate about it,” DeCaro said. “I’ve been calling everyone and their grandma to do anything to raise awareness.”

She said she wants to create not just awareness of slavery, but awareness of what can be done about it. She points people who ask to Allies Against Slavery, a nonprofit that works in collaboration with local law enforcement to bring resources to recently rescued sex slaves.

“A lot of [trafficked] people in Austin are international,” DeCaro explained. “They come here for better life. They think they’re going to get paid wages, but they don’t. They get here, and a pimp says, ‘Don’t call the police or we’ll have something happen to your family if you report it.’ ”

John Nehme from Trade in Hope and Allies Against Slavery was a guest speaker at the 27-Hour Stand for Freedom. He showed a clip from a documentary he’s creating on American slaves. It’s not always easy to know what to do about slavery, he said, but awareness is the first step.

“I think it speaks volumes that students want to take initiative to care about this problem when they’ve got so many other things they could be spending their time on,” Nehme said. “My personal hope is that this would touch a deep part of these students’ hearts, and they would desire to begin impacting real change by changing their behavior first.”

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