Human trafficking is the fastest growing black market crime on the planet, second only to drug dealing. It generates an estimated $32 billion dollars per year, according to the United Nations. (Breaking Free, 2015)
This is such an alarming statistic and so eye-opening to instructor, Jennifer Youngs, and her massage therapy students that they decided to take action. The students in her Pregnancy/Special Populations Massage class at Minnesota School of Business-Elk River dug deep to find an organization that helps women and families who have been victims of this crime. They were fortunate to find Breaking Free, a Minnesota non-profit that helps an average of 400-500 women and girls escape prostitution and sexual exploitation each year. The students quickly identified ways that they could help.
The class chose to use their applied learning project as a way to do the most good. They started by holding a collection drive at the Elk River campus and in the community to collect needed items and funds for the organization. This was very successful, according to Youngs, as they were able to donate a van full of items. “The representatives and other volunteers at Breaking Free were very impressed,” explained Youngs.
The second part of the project included an evening at the center. The students attended a support group meeting on a Tuesday evening where they were able to make dinner and give chair massages to 30-40 women and children. Prior to going to the center, the students researched massage and trauma victims. They learned about a special technique called “trauma touch” for people who have been in traumatic situations. The students were able to use this technique that evening.
“Giving chair massages to the women at Breaking Free not only put me outside of my comfort level but also broadened my view of those who need massages,” said student Talitha Johnson. “It is not just those who have sore muscles but those who simply need a loving touch which is something a prostitute does not often receive and finds it hard to accept. Restoration and healing takes time especially for those who have suffered with prostitution. Building trust and showing love can be a key to a comforting massage and faster recovery.”
Additional research about prostitution and trafficking helped the students determine how prevalent the issue is in Minnesota. The students were shocked to discover that it is a huge issue, due largely to the lack of massage licensing requirements in Minnesota. They learned that it is often used as a cover for prostitution rings and sex trafficking rings.
“This was an eye opening experience for the students and they walked away from it with a valuable experience,” shared Youngs. “It really hit home for them. They learned how important it was to present the profession in a professional matter. The women were extremely appreciative to receive pampering and touch in a healthy way.”