Over 250 people gathered at the Historic Cache County Courthouse on Thursday evening for a human trafficking awareness demonstration in conjunction with World Day Against Trafficking.
Demonstrators decked out in yellow and blue marched up and down Main Street in Logan with signs bearing messages like “save the children,” “children are not for sale” and “end human trafficking now.” The event was part of Operation Underground Railroad’s nationwide “Rise Up for the Children” event.
Taylor Mendenhall, president of the Utah State University chapter of OUR, spoke briefly to demonstrators before the march, encouraging all to obey traffic laws and be peaceful. Mendenhall told the group that the march was a demonstration and not a protest; it was also not a political statement.
“We are only pro-children,” Mendenhall said to the group.
In an interview with The Herald Journal, Mendenhall said his chapter of OUR was formed in February 2019 and this demonstration was the first of its kind for the local chapter.
According to OUR, human trafficking is “modern-day slavery” involving the use of force, fraud or coercion to to obtain labor or commercial sex acts.
Citing data from UNICEF, the organization states 2 million children are sexually exploited in the multibillion-dollar commercial sex industry. Mendenhall said the term “trafficking” is something of an umbrella term for many forms of abuse.
“Trafficking can encompass anything from individuals purchasing children for the physical act of exploiting them, to filming and producing and distributing child pornography and selling that material for their own profit,” Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall said many people view trafficking as a problem only existing outside of the United States, which he says isn’t the case.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that we have concrete evidence of it happening in Logan,” Mendenhall said, “but in Utah, we certainly do.”
A student at Utah State University, Mendenhall said he and a friend started the university chapter a year and a half ago after viewing an OUR documentary.
“I was pretty moved by it,” Mendenhall said, explaining that he had since been involved with helping children receive rehabilitative surgeries. “Through those experiences, it’s deepened by passion for fighting this.”
Mariah Wood, an OUR representative, said the response from the general public has been usually positive.
“We actually get really good responses,” Wood said. “Everyone I talk to is for preventing human trafficking.”
Mendenhall said, however, there are some people who don’t receive the message. For Mendenhall, it’s likely because of the bleakness of the subject matter.
“It’s a very dark subject that needs to be brought to the light,” Mendenhall said.