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Donna Sabella spoke on Wednesday about the mental health of sex trafficking survivors.

Photo: Mi Jiang

Although the idea of reestablishing a life after physical, mental, verbal and psychiatric trauma seems inconceivable, this is the grim reality for victims of human sex trafficking.

At an event organized by Students Against Sex Trafficking and Drexel’s Students Advocating Against Slavery on Wednesday, Drexel’s Office of Human Trafficking Director Donna Sabella spoke about the trauma faced by survivors of sex trafficking.

Human trafficking includes forced labor and sex trafficking, and occurs in controlled settings such as apartments, massage parlors and brothels. Sabella, who is also a nursing professor and has founded both an outreach support program and a residential recovery program for sex trafficking victims in Philadelphia, discussed how sex trafficking affects the lives of survivors. From physical health consequences such as broken bones, stab wounds and cigarette burns, to emotional ordeals such as depression, anxiety and fear of being judged in the community, victims have to undergo rehabilitation so they can reintegrate into society.

For Sherry Jane Alindogan, a community scholar from Drexel University, attending Sabella’s talk was crucial in her advocacy for human trafficking in her native country, the Philippines.

“Sex trafficking has been my passion because when I travel to the Philippines, I see a lot of girls being sold cheaply, and women were sacrificing female infants to foreigners,” she said. “Their entire lives were being destroyed. Seeing this is very painful, so I want to help save one soul at a time. By coming here, I can gain the knowledge to help educate others. If I can educate one family at a time that has damaged their children, they can educate another family”.

Sabella said it is imperative to help all victims, regardless of their gender, age or cultural background. Whether survivors are from the United States or the Philippines, male or female, they are all oppressed, stigmatized and voiceless.

The talk also resonated with Wharton junior Kahle Mandarino. Mandarino enjoyed the fact that Sabella provided an insight into human trafficking from the perspective of mental health.

“Awareness is so important because a lot of people don’t know about the issue,” she said. “Thousands of people are affected in the USA, and we don’t even hear about it. There are more slaves in the 21st century than there were in the antebellum period."

Education on human trafficking is critical in order to help the public understand and feel compelled by the hardships victims face. However, it is also important for the public to take action.

Serena Advani, president of Students Against Sex Trafficking at Penn, was inspired to become involved in the organization after realizing the lack of education on human trafficking, especially since it occurs on the streets of Philadelphia. Advani said that awareness in the Penn and Philadelphia communities is essential to help victims, but she is also taking action through her organization.

“We also fundraise for organizations like the Polaris Project and Dawn’s Place, which is a women’s survivor shelter in Philadelphia,” Advani said. “We have documentary screenings throughout the year, and we are hosting an inter-Ivy conference at Penn in the spring of 2016 to help bring together people from different schools and discuss solutions to stop sex trafficking and help survivors.”

To sign up for Students Against Sex Trafficking, please email Serena at advanis@wharton.upenn.edu

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Advani founded Students Against Sex Trafficking which is not the case. The article also stated that Students Against Sex Trafficking volunteers at Dawn's Place, when in fact they fundraise for Dawn's Place. The DP regrets the errors.

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