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Amnesty Human Rights Conference 2016

This past Thursday was the annual Amnesty Human Rights Conference at Adelphi University. For the last two years, Friends Academy has taken a small group of students to this event to learn more about different aspects of human rights and to listen to experts on subjects that vary from human trafficking to prejudicial behavior to the stigma surrounding HIV to the myths about Islam.

The conference consists of two parts: a set of three concurrent workshops in the morning, followed by a performance from the Adelphi theater department in the afternoon. There is always a wide variety of workshops to choose from, which makes it difficult to select which ones you want to attend. To give you a taste of what kind of topics were discussed this year…

Workshop: Sext, Lies, and Videotape

This workshop was presented by one of the attorneys in the Nassau County District Attorney's office. She works specifically on cases involving minors, and her workshop centered on the rising issue of sexting among teenagers and the legal ramifications of such activities. The lecture covered how her office handles such cases, the laws surrounding this new phenomenon, and explanations of some hypothetical cases. While she was very intense, and some of what she said could have been viewed as problematic, she treated the subject matter with the seriousness it deserved, and it was an educational experience for those who attended.

Workshop: Human Trafficking

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This workshop discussed another issue that is becoming more and more pressing in today's society: human trafficking. Currently, it is the second largest illegal money maker in the world, with an annual market value of $32 billion. In the US alone, human trafficking brings in approximately $9.8 billion per year. What many people don't realize is that this problem is not just occuring in far-away places: it happens in America too, and organizations estimate that about 293,000 children are currently at risk for being victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is not only sex trafficking, although that is a major part of it. There is also human trafficking involved in factories, fake massage parlors, etc. It can happen just about anywhere, which makes it so scary. There is also a worrying misperpception that people are only trafficked by strangers, when in fact only 9% of human trafficking victims are lured in by strangers. 36% of predators are known family members, and 27% are boyfriends.

The organization who presented is a local charity that works to raise awareness of this issue, both locally and globally. They also lobby for bills that will help protect victims. Just recently, The Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act was passed in New York State that affords more protections to victims. If this cause interests you, a fantastic organization that is doing a lot of great work is Love 146  (https://love146.org/).

Workshop: Coexist (Religious Acceptance)

This workshop was one of the more interactive workshops in the conference. Seniors from the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County discussed the types of religious discrimination that can occur, and where such mistreatment of people stem from. No human is born hating another- this type of ignorance is taught during childhood. After a powerpoint, we were shown videos of religious discrimination that showed how different people reacted, and we discussed in small groups the situations that we saw.

Discrimination can seem like an abstract issue, but when you're listening to people who have actually experienced it, it hits closer to home. One of the girls presenting shared a story of how she was made fun of for being Jewish in the Holocaust Museum in DC. In a place meant to focus on tolerance and remembrance, it was very disconcerting to hear how one person would judge another for the way they dressed or looked. 

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The Race Project: Our Lives Matter

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The afternoon was filled with a piece presented by the theater department of Adelphi University. A group of about ten students told through monologues, dance and music the complicated state of race relations in America today. The words were primarily those of the students, that they wrote together during the process of creating the performance, making it very raw and emotional. Each of the performers was incredibly honest about the struggles they have faced. Even more important, the project represented people of all backgrounds and races, so all voices were heard equally.

One of the most poignant parts of the piece was when they talked about how just because they are young, they are seen as naive. Young people interested in social justice are frequently told to stay quiet, because they don't know enough to have an opinion. Age does not equal intelligence, and youth does not equal ignorance. It is very important that young people do get involved, and use their voices to amplify the issues that matter to them.

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Overall, the day was a huge success. If human rights and social activism sounds interesting to you, I would encourage you to get involved with Amnesty and to consider going to the conference next year. It is an eye-opening and educational experience.

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