To Fresno nonprofit Made For Them, 27 million is more than a number. It represents the number of men, women and children around the world enslaved and trafficked as sex slaves.
On Saturday, the nonprofit held the “Art of Freedom,” an annual fundraiser designed to raise money for victims and spread awareness about what guest speaker Mark Shurtleff called the second largest-growing international crime behind the illegal drug trade.
“Most people think that sex trafficking and human trafficking occur somewhere else; it’s Indonesia, it’s other places, it’s not a problem here in America,” Shurtleff, Utah’s retired attorney general, said. “And quite frankly, estimates are anywhere up to 300,000 people in slavery, modern day slavery, in the United States of America.
“100,000 children, girls, young girls primarily, in the slave trade of sex trafficking.”
For $55 a ticket, $550 for a table seating 8 or $650 for a table seating 10, guests were invited to the backyard of a beautiful estate on South Minnewawa Avenue in Clovis to paint, eat and place bids in a silent auction featuring items from photography sessions to Disneyland tickets.
After arriving, eating and bidding, guests walked from their burlap-covered tables to the “Art Bar,” where they picked up paint supplies and a wooden canvas to begin creating a work of art, which they would later seal and take home.
Volunteer Whitney Ensom, a Fresno State graduate student pursuing her master’s degree in social work, found out about the event through friends at her church, The Well.
Ensom said the “Art of Freedom” raises money to combat the issue of human trafficking, which she said is something most people don’t know happens in the United States.
“You do think maybe it’s [human trafficking] in a far-off place, but it actually is in our own backyard, even in Fresno from what we’re hearing, so it’s a local issue,” Ensom said. “And the nonprofit Made For Them is one that’s working on combatting it all over, so it’s in the U.S., it’s not necessarily talked about as much, but it is a big issue.
“It’s an important thing.”
The event featured different stations, from a just-for-fun glitter tattoo station to a paintbrush washing station, for guests to use or peruse during the afternoon.
Taylor Allsup, a Fresno State business student, was manning one of these for his Management 133S service-learning project.
Although Allsup was participating in Saturday’s event to fulfill the community service portion of the course, he said his group chose to focus on human trafficking partly because so many people aren’t aware slavery still exists in the U.S.
“It’s kind of a hard subject to try to help and stuff, because you don’t see immediate results as far as trying to help,” Allsup said. “Our group’s doing awareness, so I think that’s one of the biggest things, is just letting people know that it is an issue in Fresno, and possibly trying to do something, some sort of event to help out the cause.”
Unlike Allsup, Shurtleff said he has seen human trafficking up close and personal. After a lifetime of working in the criminal justice system, Shurtleff said seeing the destruction slavery causes is “heartbreaking.”
“I’ve seen the young women and young boys, frankly, that get caught up in this,” Shurtleff said. “And people say, ‘Why don’t they leave, why can’t they just leave, I mean no one’s chaining them down when they’re going out and prostituting,’ and so forth, but they [the victims] are kept down by power, and strength, and fear, and drugs and manipulation.
“It’s a power that primarily men hold over these young women.”
Shurtleff said he believes organizations, like Made For Them, are essential in educating society and helping and giving hope to victims of human trafficking.
“I love it when the private sector, when big-hearted people, charitable organizations, nonprofits, come together and do something like this, because it’s absolutely necessary,” Shurtleff said. “We can’t do it, the government doesn’t have the answers, all the answers, for this.”
Now that he’s retired, Shurtleff said he’s a private citizen with a lot of contacts and hopes to use these contacts to help Made For Them grow.
“Hopefully I can help out a little bit, but if not, I’m going to help right here,” he said. “This community’s doing an amazing job; what they’ll raise today will save lives, there is no doubt in my mind.”
For more information on volunteering with Made For Them, sponsoring the organization or for information about any of its upcoming events, visit the nonprofit’s website at www.madeforthem.org, call 559-441-0327 or find Made For Them’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MadeForThem.