According to the Thai Red Cross Society, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 children are sold into the sex trade in Thailand. Half as many are estimated to be trafficked into the United States. Even in our very own country, children as young as two years old are exploited, and coerced into performing sex and oral sex acts well beyond their years. Now, the question remains – what can we do to stop it?
On Thursday evening, over 450 students packed into 194 Chemistry in support of the SOLD movement, a grassroots awareness and prevention program which is gaining national steam. Composed of several short film clips and an interactive discussion, the movement is simple in design but clear in purpose: to empower individuals to stop child prostitution before it begins.
“The film’s goal is to raise awareness,” said Rachel Goble, the project’s 25-year-old executive director and associate producer, who works alongside founder Rachel Sparks to personally spearhead the movement.
“We chose Thailand as the first film project because it is known as a sex tourism destination; there are literally cities in Thailand where you don’t go there except to have sex,” she said.
The program began with several performances from students and local artists who contributed their music, poetry, and words of hope for the cause, and continued with series of film clips, including one which introduces eleven year old “Cat,” a young girl from Thailand who sparked the inspiration for the projects beginnings.
“The nonprofit was established in reaction to a young girl’s story, her name is Cat, and Cat showed us the hope that exists in prevention,” Goble said. “She really was the inspiration for our scholarship program, and so we founded our nonprofit to be able to provide scholarships to children in Thailand.”
In light of the country’s desolate poverty, most Thai villagers cannot afford to send their children to school. As a young, at-risk child, Cat’s dreams of getting an education and becoming a national athlete inspired the SOLD movement’s hope that education is the key to preventing children from being sold into prostitution.
The campus project was funded with the help of a grant from ASUCD’s Ethnic and Cultural Affairs commission, and currently seven on campus organizations are directly involved with the SOLD project, including the International Justice Foundation and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship that co-hosted the event.
“We had an overwhelming number of volunteers helping out, and were one of the first schools to request this project,” said Nicki Sun, a junior communication major and publicity coordinator for the event.
“A lot of the volunteers were from Intervarsity, or International Justice Mission. Then we had volunteers from Alpha Phi Omega, Amnesty International, I Heart Justice, and…people like me who weren’t part of a certain organization that just heard about it and wanted to help out,” she said.
Sun was one of many to herald the success of the event, and encourage more students to continue getting involved in the cause.
“Even being involved in a tour like this, it just shows that UC Davis is compassionate about social justice issues,” she said.
Sparks emphasized the importance of getting the word out.
“Just continue talking about it,” Sparks said. “What gets us through this is just telling their stories – that there is hope in this. It’s a real gift to be a college student, and education is so important in what you learn, what you choose to learn, and what you care about. Take advantage of it. Make yourself aware. The more eyes there are to see this, the more chance we have of stopping it from happening.”
To find out more about the SOLD project and what you can do to help, visit www.thesoldproject.com.
MICHELLE IMMEL can be reached at email@example.com.