Human trafficking can happen in rural communities, despite what most think. Just ask Khurshida Begum, a human rights advocate and survivor who spoke Wednesday at a Safety Series panel, Jan. 16, at Yelm Middle School.
When the Bangladesh native was young, she was trafficked by an American government contractor and taken halfway across the world with promises of economic opportunity.
But when they arrived on a cattle farm in rural southwest Washington, Begum said the conditions were dehumanizing. They were beaten and abused. And their two-bedroom house had no heat or running water.
After escaping from the farm in Oakville, Washington, Begum made it her mission to spread awareness of human trafficking, which she said happens even in smaller, rural communities. She said she hopes inquiring minds that see something suspicious speak out.
“The feeling in your gut is something we often miss,” Begum said. “We’re afraid to do something.”
Begum, a motivational speaker and human rights activist, was one of many professionals who spoke on a panel about cyber safety, human trafficking and bullying. This was in conjunction with Yelm Community School’s second of four Safety Series events.
Jonathan Maynard, Information Technology director at Yelm Community Schools, and Kyle O’Neil, assistant principal at Ridgeline Middle School, gave an update on their new anonymous reporting program, STOPit.
O’Neil said that as they continue to educate the students on the application’s mission, they’ve been receiving more substantiated reports and have been able to find concrete solutions.
Use of the cell phone application has been used generously with Ridgeline Middle School and Yelm Middle School, said Corrina DuRocher, assistant director of Student Support and Safety Programs.
Yelm Mayor JW Foster was one of dozens of attendees during the evening. He said the success of STOPit is a testament to the community’s, and the school’s, willingness to find new solutions to problems.
Foster also said he was surprised to hear of Begum’s story.
“If it happened in Oakville in 1988, there’s no reason it couldn’t be happening here, today,” he said.
Foster said he encourages people to speak out if they see something suspicious.
Amongst the half-dozen or so resources available to attendees that night, which included organizations such as Shared Hope International and Thurston & Mason County Crisis Center, Yelm Timberland Library associate Mike McGowan was busy checking out books on parenting, bullying, surviving negligent parents and childhood behavior, to attendees.
Dozens of books lined the table, each with different resources and knowledge available for community members.
“It’s also a conversation starter,” McGowan said. “To know that this may not be specifically what you need, so (they should) come on down to the library.”
McGowan said subjects like bullying and harassment are one of the library’s most sought after subjects, although they’re not heavily spoken about.
68-year-old Trucene Obert, a Thurston County resident, checked out a few books from McGowan’s desk. One read “Stress-Free Discipline: Simple Strategies for Handling Common Behavior Problems.” She checked it out to help her five-year-old daughter.
“She’s experiencing a little bit of bullying in kindergarten, so we’re trying to be as prepared as possible,” Obert said.
Her daughter has been the victim of and provocateur of bullying. It’s a topic she hopes more will address.