I flew back home to Naples, Fla. on March 14 and upon opening my front door, I was greeted by one of my two dogs. It did not take long to notice Sully, my six year old Maltese, had acquired a new friend –a stuffed crab. Sully apparently found his new best friend in my family’s move somewhere along the way from Boston, Mass. to Naples, Fla.
As the days turn into weeks, I have observed just how attached Sully is to this random object. His behavior is such a surprise because as a puppy, he was never attached to toys. My family would buy him a new toy occasionally but within a week, they would disappear. He would take them outside and hide them somewhere in the seven acres of woods behind my old home, and eventually forget about them. You knew it was finally springtime when toys would slowly pop up from beneath the melting New England snow.
No one particularly knows how Sully’s stuffed crab came into our lives or why he became so attached. Moving across the country is a big change for such a small dog. Like COVID-19, the red crab showed up at our doorstep and now it is everywhere Sully goes.
Watching Sully hang with his new best friend has given me the chance to reflect on who our support systems might be during this uncertain time filled with big changes. Just as Sully counted on Mr. Crab for comfort during the move, we all began to lean on each other for support. With all of this “forced” free time there’s a greater chance of loneliness and that can be debilitating.
My best friend from high school, Tzippa Marchette, 22, told me about her experience quarantining in Boston.
“The loneliness and staying inside all day is exacerbating my sadness. I can keep myself occupied if I go out, be with friends, go to work or drive places that I really like. Now that all those things have been taken away, it’s been really difficult. It’s getting to the point where I can’t even get out of bed.”
Hearing Tzippa made me realize that now that we aren’t distracted by our everyday lives, there are so many things we take for granted –like the relationships and friendships we have. There are people I used to see in my everyday life that I don’t anymore, and it feels like there’s a large part of me missing. But then I remember my “Mr. Crabs.” These are the people that support me in times of uncertainty. My friends Charlie and Izzy never forget to see how I am really doing, my cousin Jennie’s quirky antics during our video calls remind me how good it will feel to laugh together in person once again and my mother and sister support me through my anxiety.
In this unnerving, upsetting and anxiety-provoking time it is okay to feel any sort of emotion. Watching Sully carry around Mr. Crab, reminds me to tell the people I lean on that I’m thinking of them.
When Haina Chen needs to take the subway to go to school, people often put their hands over their mouths and noses when they see her or choose to leave after she sits in a nearby seat. Chen a Chinese international student who studies in Spain, said she had seen discrimination increase in recent months since the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, China. That was before Spain’s cases spiked and the country went into a lockdown. “A serious incident occurred when I was walking down the street with my roommate (also Chinese), and two people who did not sound like native speakers shouted ‘coronavirus’ directly at me and my roommate.” Haina Chen also said that she once took the subway alone. The man on Haina Chen’s right covered his nose and mouth when he saw her. Haina Chen did not respond to him, and then the man and the person sitting on the left of Haina Chen began to talk about her in a language that Haina Chen could not understand. Haina Chen said that she could clearly hear ‘coronavirus’ several times, and their laughter was very obvious. Later, as they were about to get off the bus, they got up and sang “coronavirus” to a melody.
So far, the total number of COVID-19 cases in China are about 82,000 according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Map. As the outbreak was contained in China, outbreaks began in other countries, such as Italy, South Korea, the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom. In Spain, the cases are now above 135,000. Many Chinese students studying abroad suffer discrimination. In the United States, the president read from a press briefing where the word “COVID-19” was crossed out and the words “Chinese virus” had been written in.
“This is due to cultural differences, some people’s ignorance and misreporting of information in the media,” said Yuxin Yang. “I think you have to fight back if you are discriminated against.” Yuxin Yang, who studies in Syracuse University, said she has not experienced discrimination but she read a lot from media which said that Chinese international students experienced discrimination in the U.S and other Western countries.
Yifan Yu, who studies in University of Minnesota Twin Cities, said when she took a taxi, the driver wouldn’t let her in until she took off the mask she was wearing.
“When I saw the act of covering my nose and mouth I started to feel a little bit shocked, and I was thinking discrimination in this age is not okay,” said Haina Chen. “However, after seeing more, I got used to it. I would be very sad and angry, and even if I didn’t want to go out and see the crowd, I didn’t think to fight back. After all, I was in a foreign country and I was not familiar with people. I’m afraid of what I will get if I fight back.”
“When Westerners see an Asian face, they think that this person is Chinese and has the virus, so they want to flee far away,” said Haina Chen. But Westerners have long discriminated against Chinese people, particularly as China is developing and becoming stronger because the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, Haina Chen said, adding that Westerners seized the opportunity to discriminate against the Chinese.
International students need to learn to protect themselves, try not to go out alone and to pay attention to the environment, Yifan Yu said. For example, in a place like a school, the likelihood that someone will attack you for wearing a mask is very low, because everyone is highly educated, Yifan Yu said. Don’t argue with others until you have to.
Many Chinese international students want to return to China once the semester finishes. The Chinese government is requiring them to submit a daily health report for the 14 days before their flight to make sure that when they arrive they can be taken care of if they are ill.
*It is our duty as journalists to be the voice of St. Mike’s and our community. We have decided to release this story at this time, even with the recent events, because of the timeliness.*
At least once every semester we get an email from Public Safety that states the following: “Saint Michael’s College Public Safety received a report of a sexual assault reported by a XXX student. The incident was reported to have occurred XXX. An investigation by Public Safety and Student Affairs is ongoing.” Followed by a list of a bunch of numbers and sources, people can contact if they want to report any crimes or suspicious activity. They even include ways to prevent sexual assaults in the email, such as “Never pressure or coerce someone into sexual activity” and “When engaging in sexual activity, be sure that you and your partner(s) are coherent and not incapacitated for any reason.” Public Safety concludes the email with potential penalties if found guilty of sexual assault on a school level as well as criminal and further information regarding school policies on sexual assaults.
While this email is jam-packed with vital information to the St. Mike’s community and the victims of these horrendous acts, an email is not enough. Every 73 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the United States, reports the Rainn organization, which is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. 11.2 percent of all college students in america (undergrad and graduate) will experience sexual assault. Only 230 sexual assaults out of 1,000 are reported to police. These are scary numbers and statistics for many reasons.
Two years ago, the school installed virtual learning courses on two things: drinking and sexual assaults. Every incoming freshman is required to complete both of these before picking up their room keys. Doug Babcock, director of Public Safety, holds self-defense
classes for anyone who wants to participate. But why are these the only times that sexual assault is addressed at an administration level?
On March 5, 2020 a lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Jane Doe vs. the Defendant SMC and Defendant Daniel Dromeshauser surfaced in public records. Jane Doe filed a lawsuit against the school for negligence to her well-being after reporting being sexually assaulted in a classroom within the campus academic buildings on March 4, 2018, by Defendant Dromeshauser. The lawsuit asserts that the Defendant not only assaulted Jane Doe, but made a video of the assault and sent it to his friends and lacrosse teammates via Snapchat around campus. In 2018 when a campus investigation had been opened, Jane Doe claimed her well-being was not accommodated. Among the assertions:
The assault took place in a classroom in Jean-Marie where one of Jane Doe’s courses was scheduled. When Jane Doe requested that the class location be changed she said she was told to drop said class instead of the class being moved.
Defendant Dromeshauser was never restricted from certain areas on campus until later in the investigation, and even then was still allowed to attend classes and eat in the dining hall. The lawsuit asserts that the college’s negligence caused her further severe mental and emotional trauma. We reached out to Jane Doe’s lawyers for comment, however, they declined.
Public Safety is required by federal law to publish the Clery Report each year of all the reported crimes that take place at the college. The 2018 report shows that there were three reported cases of sexual assault (rape). Those statistics do not correlate to one another. While the Clery report provides us with a visual representation for the number of assaults reported on campus, the Clery report cannot accurately represent all cases of assault as many go unreported.
“We know that across all fields, that sexual assault is under reported. We know we don’t have everyone that has had something bad happen to them coming forward, and saying this has happened to them,” said Doug Babcock, director of Public Safety.
Let’s open up the conversation going back to why we only ever get one or two emails a semester about sexual assault. “It’s called a timely warning,” explained Babcock. “There’s requirements for what constitutes a timely warning. The first thing is, as a primary consideration, is a continuing or ongoing potential threat to the community.” Something that happened six months prior may not constitute an ongoing threat if that threat hasn’t been present since six months ago. If it were something that happened a week prior, then the potential for that threat to continue the upcoming weekend is more likely and would potentially be a timely warning.
While we don’t want an overload of emails as that could desensitize the seriousness of these incidents, we wish the conversation wasn’t limited to just these emails and then dropped. It would be nice to maybe hear that the investigation they opened has been closed and we can know whether or not the student accused is on campus or has been suspended. As well, it might be nice that there be support sent out like there is when someone passes away in our campus community. Grief counselors are made readily available for students and sometimes when the situation calls for it, Kathy Butts, the head of grief counseling, makes her way to individual classrooms to let students know what is available to them. They continue the conversation of this deceased member, not leaving it to be explained in one email. Why is sexual assault not done in this same manner? It is something that has affected one of our community members and could potentially affect others in the community. Let us know there is help.
Ways you can report
Even if you know how to go about reporting, are you aware of what happens once an incident is reported? Catherine Welch, St. Michael’s Title IX director, and Doug Babcock of Public Safety, both have different steps to take in order to follow the same Policy. For Public Safety, they take as much action as the reported individual wishes. They follow the individual and their choice to have an on campus investigation only or the choice to take further legal action with the Colchester police off campus. “The information the person wants shared will be shared with administration. If they want contact, then we follow up with them and we say ‘here are the rights and options you have’ and we go through this whole conversation of what we can do on campus and what we can do off campus” said Babcock.
“You have the right to not have your academic and educational experience interfered with or damaged. That means that if the person that is the respondent in the case is in a class with the person that is reporting in, we will remove the person that is the respondent out of that class. If there is not the evidence to start this way, they are removed from campus, academically or suspended.” In other words, according to Title IX, if the the reporter of the alleged sexual assault has a class with the person who they are accusing, the school will remove them to follow Title IX regulations.
So, the report has been made, Public Safety has spoken with the person who makes the report, and has given them their rights and options of what can happen on campus, what next? “You also have at the same time the option of also going to law enforcement. When you do that, they often want to be the interviewing agency first, their standard for evidence is higher than the campus. That will be a criminal court process, that is constitutional law,” explained Babcock.
Within the lawsuit, Plaintiff Jane Doe claims she was advised by Public Safety not to get police involved. Asking Doug Babcock if Public Safety ever advises against getting law enforcement involved during investigations, he denies they’d ever tell a reporter that. “We would say ‘we have our process on campus that is strictly on campus, if you want to talk to someone about a criminal process, we can bring someone down’.”
When an assault is reported and Public Safety is involved, their main concern is for the well-being of the reporter, Babcock said. “As much as it is a physical act, it’s a crime of power. When a person has this very intense experience that’s emotionally traumatizing, where their power is removed, the process to work through that can’t continue taking power away.” Babcock said he could not comment on the lawsuit as he was not aware of it.
Once the initial meeting with Public Safety is conducted the next steps that are taken are the person reporting going and talking to Catherine Welch, the Title IX coordinator. “I am not a decision maker in the process, I am kind of the shepherd to make sure the process runs smoothly, help students, provide any accommodations that the student might need, make sure that we follow the process,” Welch said.
If the student does want to follow through with an investigation, a team of trained lawyers who handle sexual assault cases on campuses across Vermont and New York come in, interview both parties involved, friends of those people, gather text messages, photos, videos, or Snapchat that may have been exchanged about this incident, and compile all the information together. Before further steps are taken, both students have the opportunity to see the materials and say whether or not there is more information that needs to be looked into. After all the critical information is gathered, both students have the option to write a statement to the determination panel and a letter of character. “The determination panel are three faculty or staff members that are trained to look at all the materials and make a decision. Their decision is simply to determine if the St. Michael’s College Sexual Misconduct Policy has been violated or not, and then that goes to the dean of students for sanctioning,” Welch said. This is a rotating panel of trained people from across campus. So if both student or panel members do not feel comfortable being a part of the case, they can rotate people out and put in another member.
St. Michael’s College is an educational system so when it comes to sanctions if the panel finds that the sexual misconduct policy has been violated, two things could happen, suspension or dismissal from the college. For more information on St. Mike’s Title IX and Sexual Respect Policies, please visit
Moving forward, with this new-found knowledge, we as women in college feel like this is a slap in the face, clearly there are holes in the system. This is our wake up call to open up a conversation on campus around the topic of sexual assault. By doing that maybe, just maybe, more people will feel comfortable reporting what they saw or standing up before things escalate that far. If our campus is informed and up to date around the topic of sexual assaults, students can have a say in the sexual respect and sexual misconduct policy. We can keep both of those policies up to date and make sure they are doing what is best for our campus. In a perfect world, these crimes of stripping power would not happen, but the world is not perfect and no one deserves to deal with this alone. By opening up the conversation, people might not be so scared and not feel so alone.
I didn’t know stress until it hit me in the final hours of my study abroad trip to Indonesia, stuck in a rural village with no cell service, trying to book my third plane ticket home after just learning my program was cancelled.
I’d spent the weeks leading up to my last days in the program doing my best to remain somewhat oblivious to the only thing the rest of the world was talking about. In a remote, rural village in Bali, it was easy to maintain a willful ignorance as the people around me – the teachers leading my program, my host family, the president of Indonesia himself – acted like life was carrying on as normal. I’d come home every night to dinner with my host mother and sister, and graze over cooked rice and tempe, chatting about our days, when I’d bring up half nervously the fact that my school had extended spring break because of Coronavirus. I was met with blank stares and a small murmur of “oohh’s” before we carried on conversation. The next day, I’d up the ante with news that school was online for the next few weeks, and may be cancelled altogether, only to be met with the same underwhelming response, not sure they understood the severity of the situation. This continued until I walked in for dinner one night to my host mother staring at me with wide eyes. “Tom Hanks has Corona. This isn’t good.”
The reality of the world slowly started to creep up on me as I watched my friends get plucked from their programs abroad one by one until I was the last man standing. I’d wake up in the morning to find alarming texts from my friends and family asking me when I was being sent home, news reports on the declaration of a national pandemic coming from the United States, and the addition of several more cases reaching Bali day by day. The narrative quickly turned from “I want to stay” to “Why haven’t we been sent home?” I was in a constant internal battle between desperately wanting to stay and a nagging urgency to leave.
The Sunday of the week that we would be sent home, we were meant to leave our homestays for a five day trip to a rural village in Bali when we were asked to meet up with the director of our program for a meeting about the Coronavirus before we left. We sat down expecting to hear the news that we’d be the final few to finally be sent home, when she told us that we’d been asked by SIT to continue as normal until further notice, and that we were planning on finishing the program in May.
Several hands shot up, questioning the safety of this decision. Many of us had received news from our loved ones that the borders may be closing altogether. Plane ticket prices were rising by the minute. Connecting flights were hard to find because international flights were canceled.
Another question burning in the back of everyone’s mind was: What’s the reality of actually getting sick in Bali? Given our status as white Americans, we’d likely be cared for above any Balinese people – a slap in the face to those who had been so selfless towards us over the past two months.
The endless questions and inevitable result of our program ending lead many of us to book flights before the announcement of our program being cancelled two days later, after one final pleasant morning of farming in the rice paddies.
I was in Alliot eating lunch on a cold day in the middle of January when I had a realization, “Crap!” I thought to myself. I had completely forgotten to find a news story to discuss in Reporting for Media in just half an hour. So, I did what any good Journalism major would do and I pulled up The New York Times app on my phone, and scrolled through to find an article about a new virus that was spreading rapidly around China. I didn’t know much about it, and to be completely honest I just read the headline and skimmed quickly to have enough to discuss in class before I got up, carefree and happy walking to class that afternoon.
Little did I know, two months later there would be people in Vermont with that exact same virus, and that I’d be taking that walk from Alliot to class for the last time, and leaving Saint Mike’s two months earlier than expected.
I had a pretty rough start at Saint Mike’s, dealing with homesickness and adapting to the workload, but I came back second semester ready to succeed, to push myself to do my best in all my classes, as well as making more awesome memories with my friends. I had gotten through finals and I knew what I needed to do to prepare and study for the next set, and I was excited to see what the second semester would be like. Yet here I am spending the end of the year at home and online. All of the things I was looking forward to–spending more time with my friends, witnessing fun end-of-the year activities that everyone seemed so excited about, were whisked away.
Now, I’m not going to be too dramatic and over the top because while I am really upset that all of this was taken from me, and I am having a difficult time adapting to online classes, I try to keep in mind the seniors- both in high school and college- who are losing so much more than I am. I have a chance to experience all of these things later on in my college career. In my town, whenever I go on Facebook or Snapchat, there are always copious posts from seniors and their parents, devastated about the loss of the rest of their senior year. Governor Phil Scott made the decision to close schools for the remainder of the academic year, and everything has just been a huge mess ever since. Some people understand that these extreme steps need to be taken, while others are lashing out and just making things so much worse.
I get it, 100%, I totally get it, and I have so much sympathy for everyone losing out on these huge milestones. But, seeing all of these parents lash out makes me really upset. I’m also upset about losing the rest of my semester, having to stay home all the time, and everything else that comes with this virus but I just don’t understand how getting angry is supposed to help.
Getting mad at people isn’t going to bring everything back to normal, hoarding toilet paper isn’t going to bring everything back to normal, but if we can all work together, drop some extra supplies off to the elderly lady next door, stay six feet plus away from those that are not in your immediate family and only go to the grocery store/pharmacy when needed, we can help slow down this virus, protect those who are at high risk, and as a result go back to our normal everyday lives, much faster.
By Katelynn Briere, SGA President, 2019-2020 and Brenna Broderick SGA Vice President, 2019-2020
To the editors,
On behalf of the Student Government Association, we wanted to provide an update about the changes following the Day of Learning and Reflection. The intention of the Day was to make our campus aware that racism is something that we discuss and address on campus. YES, we must improve for the next day of learning to make our impact match our intention. It was a student-led initiative designed to be the first short-term step in a process that will take continual care and prioritization. Student leaders realized that long-term, systematic change is also necessary. We are excited about the specific long-term initiatives that the Student Government Association developed this year. These initiatives were passed by the SGA Senate February 18th (50 yea, 0 nay, 0 abstain), and have been presented to President Sterritt. Following is a brief outline of what the SGA has asked for.
(1) Faculty and staff must undergo annual implicit bias training
(2) The President’s cabinet must expand to include an individual whose main purpose is to increase diversity and inclusion
(3) The position of Director of CMAS must be rehired and their main focus must be to address students’ needs.
(4) The staff of Bergeron Wellness Center must include more diversity.
(5) Human Resources must increasingly prioritize diversity and inclusion throughout all stages of the hiring process.
(6) The Bias Response Team must be reevaluated and reinvigorated.
The leadership of the SGA has already met with President Sterritt and before the COVID-19 emergency, movement on each demand had begun. The administration has confirmed their commitment to these student-driven initiatives. We are optimistic about the potential of these initiatives and urge students to continue to work towards greater inclusion and diversity on our campus with intention and respect.
When the Lenten season comes around, it is always a big production at my house on what everyone will give up. My mom and I take it upon ourselves to give up social media. We practice this new life as if our virtual presence didn’t exist. This year, the Lenten season feels exceptionally long as the COVID-19 outbreak has left us isolated within our house, with “virtually” nothing to do around the town. Normally, I would reach out to friends who take to Facebook or Instagram when stuck at home but since I gave that up during Lent I need to find other ways to connect.
Alas, having this free, quality time, not only off social media but also in self-isolation, is a real turning point for me as an individual. Too often, I have found myself digging deep into social media and being almost obsessed with it. I often argue that people need to get off their phones and interact with others in a more direct, human approach, and yet, I miraculously find myself guilty of the exact same thing. During Lent, this “fast” as it is often called, helps shed light on what is truly important in this world. Being away from that constant need for attention via my social media profiles gives me a fresh new perspective on life. This year is no different, even as I am physically isolated from my friends.
I’ve been reminded what truly matters in life and my attention is moved to my family, or how I view myself, personally. Too often have I opened Snapchat, sent snaps and then closed the app, only to immediately reopen the app and think to myself “What is my life right now?” The fact that I let this happen time after time speaks to how addicting social media really is.
Being where I am in life, I feel free from an overwhelming, constant weight and frankly, I may not go back. After Lent ends next Sunday at Easter, I may opt to take a permanent hiatus from social media and all the troubles that go with it. I have found myself feeling free and taking time to appreciate the little things that I would normally not notice. I’ll go out for a walk with my family and my dog and embrace it so much more. I can listen to the returning spring weather and chirp of the birds.
Yes, there is a use for social media and yes, there is something unique about it, but it is oh so limited. Real life is only a figment within social media and people often go there to escape reality. I need to remind myself that these apps for social media are not a different life, but simply tools. These tools help connect people over a long distance and amazingly enough, for the first time in a while, I can imagine that is what they are being used for–to reach out to friends and family impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Looking out for one another, while not physically there to comfort those people can be beyond difficult. When and if I go back to Facebook and social media it will not be to build a different me, not to make others want to be me, but to reach out to those I care about whom I desperately wish were closer and more accessible. I don’t want to give up that connection.
When Easter comes around, and Lent concludes, I will move on with no social media holding me down. Each second I spend online, I could instead spend time with the people I love and admire.
It’s April again but the rain is falling with the tears of loneliness here on a deserted campus. I have memories of students walking to class, studying in Dion and noise that never sleeps on the weekend. But while the grass grows and the beautiful spring calls, the absence of students causes pain to my heart, I long for someone to share the experience of a beautiful changing season.
I am one of the students who received permission to stay on campus. Coronavirus has left me trapped where each floor in Aubin Hall is dark. With nobody walking through the floors the motion-detecting lights remain off. I leave my room to walk into yet another dark floor whose light flickers on as I enter.
My experience has been like walking through empty spaces. The parking lots are empty. I don’t spend time outside unless it’s warm and sunny when I take a walk alone listening to music. Sometimes I feel like I am Will Smith in the film “I am Legend” except I don’t have a dog.
Keeping social distance here is not difficult because there is nobody to get near to. The only time I get to see more than one student is when I go to the dining hall at Alliot for lunch and dinner.
The school has done a great job creating an environment that enhances social distancing. For one thing, students are not allowed to eat together. When you walk into the dining area, you notice all the chairs are stacked and there is caution tape wrapped around the dining area. A small whiteboard instructs students to stay six feet apart, sanitize their hands and put on a glove before walking into the kitchen to serve themselves with a takeout container that they carry back to their room. You can’t sit around the fireplace near the bookstore because the whole area is being quarantined. Einstein’s is closed and nothing is active in Dion.
I feel lonely sometimes, but I keep myself busy. I do push-ups everyday, teach myself how to play guitar, write poems, and most importantly study hard. The longing for people still haunts me everyday. In fact, it’s teaching me something about human connection. Such absence makes me desire human presence more intensely. I feel more connected than ever, and it frustrates me because I begin to realize the everyday connection we all take for granted.
Maybe social distancing will teach us about those experiences we take for granted when we are so distracted looking at cell-phones, and not paying attention to people around us because we’re busy worrying about ourselves. Maybe, we will learn to appreciate humanity more; to look up and see the sky. Maybe social distancing will restore human consciousness to engage in the world of openness.
Walking into a nightclub in Massachusetts, Jasmine Grace, 19, found herself chatting with an older man. He offered to buy her a drink, which Jasmine accepted, seeing the expensive jewelry hanging from his neck and adorning his knuckles. They parted ways, but conversation between the two continued after that night.
Having just graduated from cosmetology school, Jasmine explained to him that she wanted to work in a salon. After lavish dates and exciting new opportunities, Jasmine said yes to entering a romantic relationship with this man she had met. He told her that she could own a salon with his help as a businessman. He sent her to massage school and hired her to work for him. However, the money he spent was now suddenly expected to be repaid.
“Being 19, I wasn’t a young teenager, but I was naive,” Jasmine said. “It was definitely something I didn’t think would happen to me, it wasn’t something I asked for. It completely changed my life.” There was no way Jasmine was going to be able to repay the money he had spent on her. She moved in with him in order to work off her debt. He told her the best way she could pay him back was to do a few favors using her body. He sold her to men up and down the East Coast for five years, from age 19 until age 24. Throughout those five years the best way Jasmine could cope was by turning to heroin and addiction.
According to Polaris statistics, in 2018 the highest number of sex trafficking survivors in the United States was 243. Often there is violence and abuse against those being sold, this number represents the survivors, but not the overall number of those that were trafficked at this age. These 243 survivors were trafficked at the ages of 15-17 years of age. Also according to Polaris statistics, in 2018 the numbers reported to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline illustrated that 7,126 women were trafficked and 2,378 minors were trafficked. Jasmine was one of many, and the threat has evolved.
That’s why college students, including those at St. Michael’s College, are on alert. A few weeks back, before the campus had cleared out, two women dressed in neat blouses made their way onto St. Michael’s. They approached female students, inviting them to join the Bible Club they ran at their church. Many of the female students were startled by these seemingly nice women and reported it to Public Safety. News of the women’s presence on campus spread quickly, as did the rumor that they were part of the sex trade. This turned out to be a false alarm, but situations that are dangerous exist in every community.
Having worked with survivors of sex trafficking, Sister Pat McKittrick, the community health coordinator at the University of Vermont Medical Center and the source that referred me to Jasmine’s story, knows sex trafficking happens here in Vermont.
“We have seen both, sex trafficking and labor trafficking in the area.” McKittrick said in an interview at the O’Brien Community Center. “There are people that are really just working on that now ” said Sr. McKittrick. For law enforcement it’s a difficult call to make. Oftentimes, when they want to get involved, they put the person they are trying to save more at risk. “If you try to rescue someone, you take the risk of killing them. The law is stepping in on the trafficker’s profit. They count on this person to be trafficked and make this big profit for them. Trying to make them leave will often encourage them to hurt them. The traffickers see them as their property” said McKittrick.
In labor trafficking, people will work longer hours than they are supposed to and when it comes time to be paid, the traffickers will then tell them they owe for food, lodging, and transportation so they dock more of their pay, McKittrick said. “So then you end up with maybe a fourth of what you get.”
From India to Vermont
Trafficking happens globally, because people in that industry are seen as replaceable. With drug trafficking, you need to replenish your product. However, with women and men if you keep them healthy you can sell them over and over. Adrie Kusserow, professor of Anthropology at St. Michael’s College, has visited India in order to help prevent modern day slavery and human trafficking in India. “Trafficking is part of modern day slavery. And modern day slavery is very different from the old slavery, ” Kusserow said. “This kind of modern day slavery is based on poverty, not as much on race. Humans are seen as disposable because there are plenty more poor people on the globe.”
Jasmine may have been able to avoid the man she met in the nightclub if she had recognized his money as a profit from some illegal business and turned him down. “There were definitely red flags, but because of how I grew up and where I grew up, and the culture of our society, I ignored them or glamorized them,” explained Jasmine, who now does outreach work to prevent the same situation from happening to other young people. “Now I tell teenagers, ‘Don’t date the drug dealer’. If he has fancy stuff or a fancy car and doesn’t come from a wealthy family, he’s probably a drug dealer. Why we think that’s ok I don’t know, it’s just our culture.”
Similar to the lures used in Jasmine’s case, traffickers often offer something desirable such as a job, drugs, or money. “Most traffickers try to visit poor homes and trick them into thinking they are offering the girl a job in a city, like working in a biscuit factory or being a waitress. It could be the only way this girl thinks her family will be able to eat and pay bills for sickness,” Kusserow explained. “Many of the traffickers drug the girls by slipping something into a Coca Cola so that they will sleep while crossing the border and simply wake up in a brothel.”
Traffickers take to the internet in order to find girls they can traffick. They look for profiles of young females that look lonely or troubled. “In the Darjeeling hills, Facebook has become a problem because traffickers will befriend a girl and get to know her first virtually,” Kusserow explained. “In the U.S. many traffickers have girls that are from other countries that cannot reach out for help. They fear they will be arrested for illegal residence and they also don’t speak the language so they are even more disempowered,” Kusserow said. “Sex trafficking’s commonality worldwide is about poverty and vulnerability and debt. Most traffickers will say that women have to pay off of a debt, but then the debt is impossible to pay off.”
Young and vulnerable
We may think that only those with a rough past or a drug addiction are vulnerable to human trafficking. “I wanna let college kids know, especially girls, that this happens in other ways by the Sugar Daddy/Sugar Baby movement across college campuses,” Jasmine warned. “There are sources out there that connect affluent older men to young innocent girls with college debt. The men promise to take care of their debt and other things for companionship, which is false. They are looking for way more than companionship.”
“Men are even posting the fliers that are advertising on campus. The younger you are, the more vulnerable and more at risk. It’s the vulnerability they look for,” Jasmine said.
“Social media is a large platform for them now as well, because that’s where everyone hangs out. It’s the number one place they find the people they exploit and it’s the number one place they advertise for sex buyers. It’s not happening on the streets anymore, so it’s hidden in plain sight.”
McKittrick emphasized the same point to me as we sat in the lobby of the O’Brien Community Center in downtown Winooski. She told me the story of a young woman around 21 years old, the same age of many St. Michael’s students, and how McKittrick believed the woman was trafficked right here on the border of Winooski/Burlington.
“She was on a corner and I used to see her holding a sign that said ‘anything will help’. I asked her if she’d like some of my lunch and she told me she was starved. I started to go see her a little bit more often and talk to her and said ‘So what’s your story?’ and she said ‘Well I’m on heroin, I need $80 a day for my habit and I have to collect for my boyfriend.’ I said, ‘Why’re you collecting for your boyfriend?’ and she said ‘Because he’s a felon and is afraid the police will pick him up.’ She was ok with doing what she could do for the money and I think she was mostly panhandling for the money at that time,” McKittrick said.
“She was young and smart, so I asked her: ‘Wouldn’t you like to get off the street and get your life together?’ She had only been doing this for two years. And she said that she really did. So I told her we could talk to someone. The next day she told me she mentioned it to her boyfriend, and that her boyfriend doesn’t like her talking to me because he doesn’t think she’s ready to leave yet. I told her ‘What do you think he means by ‘you’re not ready to go’’? And she explained that if she goes, his drugs go and that she’s afraid he will hurt her mother.”
“She was trying to get into a facility but unfortunately at the time there were no openings within the facility. I gave her my number and I received a text from her the next day that she met a man, from Burlington, and to not worry about her because he will help her detox. I tried to tell her I don’t think it’s safe but to stay in touch. “A week later I got a text from her that he’s taking her across country, for free, and helping her detox. She’s a week clean. I started to wonder if I was so jaded that I didn’t trust anybody. Then I got a text that she was in Niagara Falls, and then she was in Detroit. That didn’t sound so good and nothing about being clean and sober. A few weeks went by and I didn’t hear from her, and then I got the text that said ‘I’m in Atlanta.’ I knew then she was being trafficked. A lot of times they manipulate their drugs, as the withdrawals get terrible, they will do anything. So the traffickers will say ‘Well you have to sleep with this one to get your drugs’ and I think they were manipulating her drug habit. Then she got back, I don’t know how she got back, but she did. And then I was told she overdosed and passed away. That was really sad.”
How to break the sex trafficking grip
Jasmine was able to fight her way out of the sex trade. Among the men that would come see Jasmine, there was one that would come and never touch her. He often overpaid the cost of the visit. Jasmine would take the extra money he paid her and hide it in a plant, no one ever checked the plants. The rest would go to her trafficker. When she finally had enough saved up to pay off the debt, Jasmine took a large leap of faith and contacted this man who had been coming to visit with her. She asked for his help to get her out and he did. He helped her get a job. She was able to move far away from the man that trafficked her, get clean from heroin, and now is happily married with two kids.
It isn’t simple or easy to break free from the hold of trafficking. As Professor Adrie Kusserow explained, many traffickers use family as a means of leverage to keep people from speaking out or leaving the industry. Sister McKittrick has seen the same tactics involved in trafficking here in the U.S. “They’ll say to them ‘You don’t want to do this? I know where your sister is, I’ll get your younger sister to do it’ so they scare them into staying, ” McKittrick said.
How can you help?
Sister Pat McKittrick is part of a program at the hospital to help survivors of trafficking, and to help medical professionals identify and approach someone who may be trafficked “The reason we started this at the hospital is because we found out that about 85 percent of people that are trafficked actually see a healthcare provider while they are being trafficked, but go unidentified,” said Sr. McKittrick. No one picks up that the underlying problem is not the UTI or STD, but that they are being trafficked. “So now we have things we ask people to look for when training the nurses.”
They often have bruises in different stages, maybe some broken bones, stories that don’t match up, or maybe a pimp present that won’t let them speak for themselves. You can request a urine sample from them for example, and have one or two minutes to ask them if they need help. While most won’t speak up the first time, if they continue to come back you can build trust with them. “People want to rescue. We never talk about rescuing. It could get someone killed,” explained McKittrick. Therefore these trainings walk through the proper steps of getting someone the help they need with the least amount of risk.
Below are a few sources and organizations that can guide you how to help bring awareness. There are educational programs at the O’Brien Community Center where volunteers can help set up the different panels and webinars. They have a panel for human trafficking that invites sources like police or healthcare workers to give variety and express that this is a problem. As well, there are webinars that focus on important information about trafficking. One they have coming up, is what happens if someone is being trafficked during COVID19, where person to person contact is not allowed making it even easier for them to be isolated. If anyone has specific interest in human trafficking they can visit the O’Brien Center tied to the City of Winooski website (listed below) and will be redirected to Sister Pat McKittrick or someone in that department. There are also plenty of other volunteer options besides trafficking available.
New information about COVID-19 has flooded news sources and media outlets daily, causing people to question the severity of the virus, but is it as scary as the media is making it out to be?
“I think COVID-19 is scarier than most people realize,” said Patricia Delaney, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Public Health Program at St. Michael’s College, via email. “The U.S. should be following the data and the science. The US should be practicing extreme social distancing. Doing so gives us a fighting chance to slow the spread of the disease,” Delaney said.
The first outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States was reported in January. As of April 2, the number increased to over 236,000 cases, making it the country with the most confirmed cases in the world. More than 5,640 people have died in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center website. These numbers are expected to increase over the next weeks and months. Fear of COVID-19 has created panic buying with people hoarding toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes. “The federal government should be taking the lead in coordinating policy, sharing information, and coordinating the distribution of critical supplies,” Delaney said.
Although people of any age can contract COVID-19, those with pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly should take greater precautions by avoiding public areas. Americans are advised to practice social distancing by staying home which results in people working from home, taking online courses, and canceling events. This can create a feeling of isolation.
Prior to leaving campus, I spoke with Robert Brenneman, associate professor of sociology.. “Social isolation elevates anxiety, quite a lot. It’s not good for us. As human beings, we are social animals and when we are separated from each other we are more prone to illness,” he said.
Two weeks later I followed up with Brenneman via email after leaving campus. “Of course, there are moments when it’s necessary to accept the negative psychosocial impact of isolation, in order to avoid a more immediate threat of acute illness. That is the situation we’re in right now. But when the virus passes, we will need to attend to the many ways in which so many people have suffered harm not only from the virus but from the effects of social distancing,” he said.
People react differently to isolation. “When you combine people’s media filters with their everyday social filters, recognizing that those tend to align, you get people literally living in different social worlds, and having very different reactions such as fear of the unknown and distrust of authorities,” he said. “Ironically, we are in some ways already socially distant from people who are physically near. I have noticed this to be true even on our small campus where many students do not learn to know classmates they sit next to everyday,” Brennman said.
Professor Delaney praised the actions of Saint Micheal’s College. “The President and the Emergency Management Team have done an excellent job in a truly unprecedented situation,” she said. “The whole college has reinvented itself in less than a week. Professor Kirby’s class is doing virtual visits with elders at St. Joseph’s home; Professor Achilich’s class is helping people to plan and design victory gardens; Professor Lubkowitz has started two YouTube Channels about the microbiology of COVID-19,” she said.
Delaney offered advice to the Gen z’s and Millennials regarding social isolation. “Listen to the experts, adjust your attitude, change your behavior and don’t cheat.
“It is the first time in our lifetimes that we have had to address a pandemic on this scale. It seems like we’re living in a movie,” said Delaney. “Even though we are scattered around the country and around the world, we are still a community. I would expect no less of us,” she said.