Blue Heart Campaign: Sad Hearts Represent Sad Truth

By Laura Kneski

USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 24, 2014) - People have been wearing blue hearts around the USF Tampa campus, and it’s not in celebration of cupid and chocolates.

The Blue Heart Campaign, an international initiative to spread awareness of and encourage action against human trafficking, took place at USF from Feb.10-21. Members of Network. Improve. Transform. Empower, or N.I.T.E., passed out blue felt hearts that they hand cut for the event.

“I’ve never heard of the Blue Heart Campaign prior to being in N.I.T.E.,” said Meagan Coakley, the club’s recruitment chair and a senior majoring in public health. “I was made aware a little more of what goes on, and when I found out that the coastal states are more so affected, like Florida is a really big state for human trafficking. So, obviously, we need to be more aware as a state.”

In fact, according to the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, “Florida is one of the top three ‘destination states’ within the U.S. for trafficking.”

That is one of the 12 statistics that might be pinned to the blue hearts. This way, the blue hearts attract attention when they are worn, but the paper stating the fact can help to start a conversation. Members of N.I.T.E. will be passing hearts out at Bull Market again this week, as well as other locations on campus. Check out their Facebook page as they do daily updates on where they will be distributing hearts, as well as human-trafficking related media.

N.I.T.E. President Elizabeth Moschella brought USF’s version of the BHC to campus three years ago during the semester she joined the club. She said that, once she heard of the campaign and became more educated on the facts of human trafficking, she wanted to spread awareness of the issue.

“I thought: ‘What is a way that we can physically bring this to USF? Because it’s a lot harder to bring a campaign than to bring an event. And so, this is USF’s own rendition of the Blue Heart Campaign,” she said.

The 300 hearts that N.I.T.E. made and passed out the first year of the campaign went quickly. Last year, 500 hearts were made and distributed. This time, while Moschella joked about her fingers hurting toward the end of cutting so many hearts, the club’s goal was to make as many as they could with the five yards of felt that they had. When the fabric was gone, almost 700 hearts were ready for a safety pin, a statistic and a place to be worn.

Human trafficking is defined by the Polaris Project, an organization dedicated to stopping human trafficking, as, “a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.” This can include acts of sexual abuse, forced domestic or farm work and manipulation for commercial purposes.

Recent studies, the Task Force says on its website, indicate that the number of people being trafficked into the United States for slavery can range from 18,000 people to 50,000 people.

“I was surprised it was so common around here because I’ve never thought about it being in, like, the United States,” said Tu Lien, a senior majoring in biomedical science. Being friends with Coakley, he has heard a bit about N.I.T.E. and the reason for its effort with the blue heart campaign. “I thought it was more like a third world, second world country thing.”

As an organization, N.I.T.E.’s goal is to make the campus a safe environment and improve campus culture. Moschella mentioned that it is important for USF students to be aware of human trafficking because, unfortunately, they are at a “prime age for this sort of thing.”

To learn more about stopping the human trafficking industry, visit the organizations’ sites linked above.

Laura Kneski is an intern for USF Communications and Marketing.