The Guam Human Rights Initiative will be launching its inaugural conference Sept. 1, with a focus on human trafficking in Guam and the Pacific. GHRI co-founder Erika Anderson emphasized that human trafficking is a regional issue for the area.
"Especially with a lot of these islands, there's a lot of movement between the islands," Anderson told members of the Rotary Club of Guam on Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Guam, where she and GHRI co-founder Mary Kate Soliva discussed their organization and the upcoming conference.
The purpose of the conference is not just to bring awareness to the complexities surrounding human trafficking, but also to foster collaborations among law enforcement, government, private businesses and others, as well as encourage further research and data collection on the topic.
"We want people to come away on this with ideas on how to work together, to create data, to find the data that's out there. And to really find ways to make this a more efficient system to tackle human rights issues and human trafficking abuses," Anderson said.
Anderson and Soliva said they hope the conference will be the first of what will be annual conferences. The pair founded GHRI just this year, in January. They met in graduate school at the University of Guam.
"About ten years ago, we were actually on Marine Corps Drive holding up signs with about 40 University of Guam students saying, 'It's happening.' And we wanted people to ask us what is happening. About that time was when the headlines about the Blue House Lounge case hit the news. And it really bothered us and it affected us that a lot of locals we were talking to felt this was just an international issue," Soliva said.
Blue House Lounge was a case in which women were recruited from Chuuk and brought to Guam under the promise of legitimate jobs as waitresses or store clerks. Instead, they were forced into prostitution.
Soliva, a U.S. Army veteran and a veteran fellow with the Hoover Institution, said she also saw human trafficking as a national security issue and readiness concern for the military, with military members also a target for traffickers.
"Again, with the big influence that Guam has and the strategic location for the U.S. military, we're looking at it from both the human rights angle, but also national security as well," Soliva said.
There will be a webinar on modern slavery the day before the conference, on Aug. 31. Individuals interested in the webinar and conference can register online at the GHRI website at https://www.guamhri.org/upcoming-events.
Anderson said the two women wanted to ensure they had real-world impact when they launched GHRI. To accomplish that, they wanted to first do the research "that needs to be done," Anderson said.
"We wanted to share this through our, this will be our first, hopefully, annual human rights conference," she added.
Anderson said the conference is a launching point, but the initiative aims to foster policy change and training.
"Ideally, we would love to have change before we have to go back to our respective schools. I don't know if we can pull that off, but I think starting a conversation is a really important place to go," Anderson said.