‘Unchained’ fashion show ignites awareness for human trafficking

Thirty South Dakota State University students clothed in designer dresses walked the runway to raise awareness for human trafficking last Wednesday in the Volstorff Ballroom.

The fashion show was put on by Unchained, a Columbus-based nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking. It told the story of a human trafficking survivor through poetry and featured clothing designed by Project Runway season five runner-up Korto Momolu.

Each outfit worn by SDSU student models told a piece of the story.

“They (the models) had different makeup — bruises on their arms and stuff like that,” said Talia Otto, a junior human development and family studies major who attended the event. “It was pretty emotional, connecting.”

The Unchained fashion show started at Ohio State University. What was supposed to be a single event led to nineteen more shows across the nation, said Unchained co-founder Felicia Kalan.

“So our vision — why do we do what we do? — is a world free of slavery, where every individual is safe and empowered to live whole, healed and restored lives,” Kalan said.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there are 20.9 million human trafficking victims globally. The largest group of trafficking victims are children under the age of 18.

“What we want to do is prevent it before it happens, so we go in and talk to the vulnerable age group,” Kalan said.

Unchained has hosted shows where victims of human trafficking have been identified. The crime happens everywhere, including South Dakota. In fact, last year the Human Trafficking Hotline received 68 calls from around the state.

“That isn’t an indication that there were only 68 cases,” Kalan said. “It just means enough people were aware of it and made a call.”

Stephanie Catani, co-founder of Unchained, encouraged people to have the hotline number in their contact list.

“It’s 1-888-373-7888. If you see something — it’s not sitting with you well, you’re watching something happen — go ahead, call that number,” Catani said.

Sydney Randall, junior human development and family studies major who attended the event, said Unchained was successful at raising awareness for human trafficking.

“I’ll probably tell my friends about this experience,” Randall said. “I’ll tell them what I saw and spark them to be a little more aware too.”