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UJ launches awareness campaign to combat human trafficking

*Trigger Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault. 

Human trafficking and the smuggling of individuals have emerged as a global criminal enterprise, presenting significant challenges both internationally and within South Africa. Gauteng has witnessed a surge in reported cases, highlighting the urgent need for action. Recognising the gravity of this issue, the University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s Centre for Student Health and Wellness, in collaboration with the Department of Social Development, ACT Africa, the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA,  the Department of Home Affairs, and internal partners, launched a wide-ranging awareness campaign aimed at combating human trafficking at the University on Wednesday, 21 February 2024.

In her opening remarks, Sister Molimi Geya, Director of the Centre, highlighted the significance of the campaign in raising awareness about the pandemic of trafficking within the UJ community.

“Today, we convene with a pivotal mission — to recognise that trafficking can affect anyone, and it demands our unwavering vigilance,” she said. “This gathering serves to arm us with essential knowledge on trafficking, avenues for seeking help, and the resources accessible to.”

Highlighting data from the United Nations (UN), Sister Geya stressed the alarming reality that millions of individuals are trafficked annually worldwide. “The UN estimates that approximately 2.5 million people have been trafficked globally,” she shared. “This highlights the widespread exploitation faced by individuals, including young men and women, for various purposes such as sexual exploitation and forced labour.”

Oratile Pitse, a survivor of human trafficking and UJ student, bravely shared her harrowing ordeal, which occurred during her first year at the university in 2017. She recounted how what began as a social gathering turned into a nightmare when she was subjected to  sexually assault  by someone she knew, causing immense physical and emotional suffering. The incident occurred away from campus grounds, yet the perpetrator stalked her while she was arriving or departing from the campus on multiple occasions.

Despite experiencing trauma, Pitse chose not to report the incident to the authorities. However, she sought assistance from UJ PSYCAD and the UJ Clinic, eventually finding support there.

She openly shared the deep effect the ordeal had on her psychological well-being, leading to episodes of panic and restless nights. Yet, under the care of UJ Clinic, Pitse initiated a support network for fellow survivors, portraying it as her refuge for recovery. Pitse’s narrative illuminates the widespread impact of trafficking, touching the lives of both male and female students.

Takalani Sekoba, a Trafficking In Persons (TIP) ambassador from the National  Department of Social Development, stressed that trafficking, as exemplified in Pitse’s case, can involve being forcibly confined, even within local communities. “Trafficking extends to situations where individuals are held against their will, even in nearby areas,” Sekoba explained. He added that the Department offers secure shelters for survivors of trafficking, providing them with a safe refuge until they are ready to reintegrate into their communities.

Advocate Carina Coetzee of the NPA outlined the legal aspects of trafficking, covering the act, means, and purpose, and discussed forms such as forced labour, illegal adoptions, and coerced drug trafficking.

Captain Lefa Lebitso of the Hawks advised first-year students to exercise responsibility in their newfound freedom and assured them of law enforcement support in times of distress, stressing the importance of campus community awareness and vigilance.

The campaign’s launched event featured a compelling dialogue and drama performance, that served as a pivotal platform to engage and educate young people about the risks, signs, and perils associated with human trafficking.

Sister Geya concluded: “By leveraging partnerships and amplifying the voices of affected individuals, the campaign seeks to empower students to take a stand against human trafficking, thereby contributing to its eradication.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of Human Trafficking, please contact the Hawks at 0800 222 777. You can also reach out to the Centre for Student Health and Wellness at 011 559 3837/1238/6544/5571.

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