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iEmphasize: An Eye-Opening Experience

There are many Belle events that are lighthearted and fun. And then there are others that enable you to confront some of the grave injustices in our world. And I think it's critical that any service organization have both. That's why I am so grateful that one of the Women's Leadership events offered this Spring was a visit to the iEmpathize exhibit on the horrific realities of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, particularly of young women and girls. Although it was conveniently located on campus, stepping into the exhibit felt like I was stepping into another world.

The iEmpathize exhibit was really heavy, and was a lot to take in. I felt like, for the time I was there, I stepped out of my own bubble of worries and stepped into a much deeper problem. As the exhibit puts it, I truly empathized by stepping into another person's suffering. And there was so much suffering. I am familiar with trafficking, however, for some reason the combination of videos, photos and artifacts made everything so real to me. Hearing the stories of Cambodian, Eastern European, Mexican and American girls who were orphaned, trafficked, impoverished and brutally beaten made me physically sick and was incredibly disturbing. It just makes me think: "how can a human being or human beings create structures that so dehumanize and humiliate other humans, especially children?!" And what gives them the right to do that to another human being, to a child who knows nothing and looks up to adults as figures who will protect her? Only to have them sell her, beat her, abuse her, traffic her. I especially felt for the plight of Eastern European orphans who have no mother or father or family to protect them. And they're so young. The story of the Cambodian mother who tried to sell oral sex from her 6 year old daughter to the workers was among one of the more disturbing stories, as well as the woman who was beaten for 7 hours when she refused to be trafficked. How do you even live through that, and how do you find the hope to continue living when you've been so brutally abused and seen as trash?

Being exposed to all of that information, part of me felt like running and hiding from the awful world. Yet another part of me felt hope, looking at the work iEmpathize and countless others are doing to combat this. This is a movement that is much greater than myself, and I owe it to these human beings who are experiencing compensated rape to do something, anything. I guess it starts with awareness, and I also took pamphlets at the end on resources. It also made me feel so overwhelmingly grateful that I didn't know what to do...grateful for parents who love me and care, grateful for my home, my opportunities, my beloved family and friends, being treated with respect and dignity...so much.

I am still processing. And still so thankful that I am part of an organization that can celebrate what is beautiful and good in the world while also bravely facing and working to combat what is truly unjust and horrible in the world, if only through educating it's members on those issues.

Maryam Nouh
Distinguished Belle
Fourth Year Bruin Belle

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