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Local teacher travels to Vietnam to discuss the human trafficking crisis
October 12, 2018

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SHEPHERDSTOWN -- Rita Nieman may dedicate her career to teaching German, but she spends her free time working with the Shepherdstown Anti Human Trafficking Task Force, raising awareness of human trafficking around the world.

This July, Nieman took her knowledge of the international human trafficking crisis to eight audiences in Vietnam, at the invitation of a teacher's conference. Although Nieman knew Vietnam is one of the most heavily-trafficked countries in the world, as an American she realized she needed to be careful to present the information nonconfrontationally.

"When I accepted their invitation to go to Vietnam, I was extremely nervous. When you look at human trafficking reports, you see the majority of them are in Vietnam, and I had to figure out a way to say this, so they could see their problem without pointing fingers. To say, 'we have a problem,'" Nieman said about her presentation, "Flip Flopping Your Perspective on Human Trafficking," during a speech she gave in Shepherd University's Rumsey Room on Oct. 4.

According to Nieman, human trafficking is often treated like a shameful subject in Vietnam, and the stigma held against those who have been trafficked can be seen, reflected by the lack of students' education on the subject. However, not warning students about how people are tricked and sold into "modern slavery" is one of the reasons human trafficking is one of the most successful trades in the black market, according to Nieman.

"We have to bring human trafficking out of the shadows -- if we don't talk about it, we won't educate our children so they won't be vulnerable," Nieman said.

During her presentations, she encouraged the teachers to develop their ability to recognize signs of human trafficking in their students. These signs vary from person-to-person, but can include monetary, bar code or "property of" tattoos; unexplained absences; sudden changes in attire or behavior, such as acting uncharacteristically promiscuous, depressed or submissive behavior ; talking about sexual situations beyond their age; apparent deprivation of food, water, sleep, medical care or communication with their family; and physical signs of abuse.

Nieman told her audiences they should report the situations they see to the police, along with any photos they capture on their phones, documenting the evidence.

"Your phones are a great weapon. Take pictures of any thing you see that doesn't make sense -- it might save someone's life. If you're wrong, even if you're unsure, report it! I'd rather risk being wrong, than allow someone to be trafficked," Nieman said, mentioning that observers of questionable situations should never confront traffickers themselves.

According to Nieman, many Vietnamese people are trafficked into China, where there is not only a need for industrial workers, but also for females, as a result of China's one-child policy causing many parents to abort their daughters in favor of having sons to carry on the family name. Although the 37-year-old policy was ended on Jan. 1, 2016, it left China with a disproportionate number of males to females in the country, which, according to Nieman, encouraged the growth of bride trafficking from nearby Vietnam.

Nieman hoped her presentations helped the teachers to understand how they could protect their students from being trafficked. After returning home, Nieman learned that her words impacted at least one school in Vietnam.

"In Hanoi, [my interpreter's school] has integrated human trafficking in their fifth grade curriculum. What a model! I hope we can integrate that education into our schools here -- to educate early, to help with prevention," Nieman said.

To learn more about how you can fight against human trafficking, visit www.facebook.com/AHTTFShepherdCommunity/.

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