State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) addressed an audience of over 200 students and faculty at Queensborough Community College in Bayside last Thursday on “Human Trafficking in Our Own Backyard,” drawing a near-capacity crowd.
The talk was the culminating event of a three-week-long ongoing series of related activities, all part of the college’s Common Read Initiative, inspired this year by the featured text, “The Road to Lost Innocence,” the true story of a Cambodian woman who overcame great obstacles and used her experiences to help others stand up for human rights.
The book, written by Somaly Mam based on her own life of abuse in Cambodian brothels, had become a shared reading experience by some 1,300 students and over 35 faculty members from across academic disciplines.
The senator focused on problems relating to human trafficking which, he indicated, runs rampant along Roosevelt Avenue, particularly between 69th and 112th streets.
So-called chica cards, featuring what Peralta described as “degrading pictures of women,” are commonly distributed in the area, so commonplace that “children trade them like baseball cards.”
Peralta indicated that “many women from around the world are brought to Queens and enslaved. The victims are very afraid,” and sometimes seen by the law as criminals. He pointed out that some members of the taxi industry are known to have been “involved in moving these women along. There are those bad apples that perpetuate this crime.”
Pointing out that there are 27 million human trafficking slaves in the world today, 80 percent of whom are women, Peralta said he and others are trying to clean up Roosevelt Avenue. “Human trafficking is a travesty that needs to end,” he added. “Women who are trafficked need to be protected.”
He said that often these women who come to this country to live the American dream instead “live that American nightmare.” There is a need, he said, to “toughen laws.”
Legislators, Peralta said, need to pass laws and fund programs that would “help victims get out of the system.”
The best way to help, he told the audience, would be, during budget season, to send letters of support for programs that help victims. “Push the state Legislature to fund the programs,” he said.
According to the senator, several bills have been introduced that address various aspects of the problem. But, he conceded, “Every time you think you’re one step ahead, they’re two steps ahead of you.”
Prior to Peralta’s address, Susan Madera, academic program manager for High Impact Practices, predicted that the “discussion will serve as an inspiration to the entire college community to stay involved and informed about local and world issues.”
An early arrival to the event, second-year medical science major Khalid Hassan, 22, of Floral Park, said he read the book in his psychology class and developed an interest in human trafficking. “It’s something people need to be aware about,” he said. “At first I was angered” by the atrocities taking place in third world countries. To his dismay, he learned, “It’s happening here, too. It’s astonishing how it’s going on under our noses.”
Jane Hindman, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, has noticed that students on campus “are sitting having conversations about a book they’ve read.”
The initiative, designed to inspire lively discussions, make connections and build an engaged community, involves faculty members who volunteer to use a selected text across all disciplines.
Students were obviously touched by what they had read.
“I can’t imagine myself in that position. It’s really crazy, the things the girls go through,” said Brianna Morgan, 21, a third- year business major from Jamaica.
Another student, Jovanie Guerrier, 24, a nursing major from Queens Village, admitted, “At first I went to the event for extra credit,” but has come to realize, “We need to speak up for a better future. We need to take actions to change the world.”