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Penn students participating in Alternate Spring Break spent their break in Florida addressing the issue of human trafficking.

Photo: Courtesy of Tilyn Bell

While some Penn students were partying away in Mexico and others were at home binge-watching Netflix, some students spent their spring break making a difference. Among them: the participants in Penn’s Alternate Spring Break trip.

This year’s Alternate Spring Break trip took participating Penn students to Clearwater, Fla., where they spent a week addressing the issue of human trafficking in the United States. The group partnered with the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, participating in educational seminars as well as community outreach events.

“Human trafficking is an important issue and one that many people don’t realize exists domestically as well as internationally,” said Tilyn Bell, a College junior and co-leader of the trip. “Whenever human trafficking is discussed in the United States, sex trafficking is usually the only form that’s brought up. Labor trafficking is a huge problem in the US and internationally but is rarely discussed.”

Throughout much of the trip, students learned more about domestic human trafficking and its effects on families, businesses and the community at large.

“I was particularly shocked to learn that 20.9 million people are trafficked internationally a year,” Pallavi Wakharkar, a College sophomore and trip co-leader with Bell, said. “In the U.S., estimated profits from human trafficking are as high as $9.5 billion, which is stunning.

“We as Americans don’t really recognize human trafficking as a problem that takes place on our soil — but it does,” she added.

College sophomore Olivia Graham also found the educational component of the trip eye-opening.

“Education is a really powerful thing, and this trip definitely helped show me that,” Graham said. “We were able to fight against trafficking in the only way that was really possible — by raising awareness — seeing as this issue is only in its beginning stages of being recognized and dealt with by the U.S.”

As the trip progressed, students spent more of their time implementing what they had learned to spread awareness for the issue. Activities included distributing flyers, speaking face-to-face with local business managers and protesting on a beach.

For Bell, this trip as well as the others she has gone on with Penn Alternate Spring Break, has significantly changed the way she views the world.

“I have gone on three breakaway trips and I have come back from each one as a more compassionate and well-informed human being,” she said.

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