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Manasseh Project founder urges community to turn discomfort with injustice into action

Andy Soper, founder of The Manasseh Project, challenges apathy towards social injustice by presenting practical tools to combat sex slavery.
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Resources for preventing human trafficking

Human Trafficking Hotline

Check out The Manasseh Project's website to learn more of what they are doing to fight against trafficking in Grand Rapids as well as connect with other freedom fighting organizations in our city. 

"Cultural change, in my opinion, starts when you change to conversation about the exploited population - language means so much," says Andy Soper, founder of The Manasseh Project

While concrete statistics of how many people are trapped in sex slavery in our city are hard to calculate, numbers on runaway youth, poverty, and abuse are accessible. These numbers are important, says Soper, because they indicate the vulnerability factors that are the roots of human trafficking.  

"The only value any product we buy has is what the purchaser gives to it," says Soper. Human exploitation occurs when we act out of consumerism - when we use people for work or sex without connecting to the reality that they are human beings, Soper says.

"It does something to your psyche when you are labeled a hooker or a prostitute," says Soper.  

"It's important to realize that this doesn't just happen in a moment. No one just decides that, 'okay, today I'm going to sell myself for sex'," he says, "they were trapped there by abuse, homelessness or substance abuse." 

"Trafficking is just a part of a greater web of injustice. By approaching this issue as trying to build a lifestyle of justice, then we're not just talking about trafficking. We're talking about clean water; we're talking about fair housing practice; we're talking about racism - all those things play into human trafficking," says Soper. 

Soper believes there are tangible ways for citizens to engage the issue of sex trafficking. 

"Trafficking is 95% prevention work… Such as working to reduce homelessness, teaching against substance abuse and heathy views on sex and relationships - Arbor Circle, Bethany Christian Services, Kid's Hope and Boys and Girls Club are all doing great work," he says. "Volunteer with them by mentoring. That is an anti-trafficking endeavor." The impact of having a positive adult in the life of a child who can assess success and distress and act accordingly is invaluable, says Soper. 

The Manassah Project believes that partnership is key to being effective and ending human trafficking.

"We view this as one more tool - rather that a be all end all. We want to step alongside professionals in law enforcement, education and social work - people that are already working within the populations that are likely to be targeted," Soper says. 

Members of the project say that they have been motivated by the support and efforts of the law enforcements and professionals in Grand Rapids. The Manasseh Project has also had a surge of citizens contact them with the desire of getting involved in the fight against sex slavery. 

"We are getting calls all the time from schools, churches and organizations like the Boy Scouts who are asking us to come and inform them on what is happening. They are saying 'we have heard this is happening in some way, we need to know about it,'" Soper says. 

Soper says he is encouraged by the many desiring to be more aware of the realities of human trafficking. He says that even with all of the recent inquiries, the majority of the city's population is still uneducated as to how to identify risk factors and what do in the case of a trafficking suspicion. 

"It takes allowing your discomfort with injustice or abuse to become action instead of apathy," he says.

If you see something that doesn't look right, Soper recommends that you call the trafficking hotline or call the police. You don't need to have hard evidence, he explains, simply tell them what you see and the police will send a car to check it out. Don't let the possibility of saving someone from slavery pass by because you just "too busy", or too afraid to make the call, says Soper.

"The worst thing that could happen is that you would be wrong. So what," he says, "but on the off chance you're right, someone gets their freedom." 

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