The University of Georgia gives students a platform to address social issues and fight for social change
More than 20 on campus sex offenses were reported in the last year, according to the 2015 University of Georgia crime statistics report. Cameron Harris, a fourth year student at the university, has taken it upon himself to open up this difficult and important conversation to the student body.
On November 9th, UGA hosted a TED Talk event for students to come and share their innovative ideas on subjects of their choice to fellow students. Harris gave his TED Talk on his organization Breaking the Shackles, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that works to fight and end sex trafficking and various forms sex violence.
“I wanted to do something for a cause that was underrepresented,” says Harris. “Through a conversation with one of my classmates, she told me about sex trafficking in Georgia so I went home and did some more research and found that there’s a high occurrence of child sex trafficking, specifically in Georgia.”
In the two years since Harris started Breaking the Shackles, the organization has almost tripled in size growing from 15 members to over 40. The organization mainly runs off of private donations and merchandise revenue and a percentage of their funding goes toward for their partnership charity, Wellspring Living, hoping to help them reach their goal of $10,000 by spring 2017.
Their most recent fundraising efforts consisted of hosting live music events, percentage nights and establishing relationships with Athens local coffee shops like Jittery Joe’s, Two Story Coffee and Zombie Coffee and Donuts. The organization raised $72 from their Jittery Joe’s percentage night and is still working toward their overall goal.
Educating communities and raising awareness on sex violence goes beyond UGA’s campus. The Cottage is an Athens local non-profit and advocacy center that works with sexual assault survivors, children, families and students at UGA.
Sally Sheppard, the executive director, helps ensure that The Cottage fulfills its mission, their staff is well trained, well paid and that grantors are pleased with how their money is being spent. She also oversees policy and procedure development for the organization and directs and informs her board of directors on what actions to take next.
“I think we get excellent support from the community,” says Sheppard. “The state of Georgia has recognized the importance of funding for child advocacy.”
Samantha Meyer, a board member for The Cottage, specifically oversees fundraising and advertising for the agency. She’s recently worked on fundraising events like Friends of The Cottage and Unplugged that encourage monthly donations. According to the 2015, 990 forms on GuideStar, The Cottage’s contribution and grant amounts have increased from $315,864 to $353,157 and as a result of this increase, they have been able to hire a new director that facilitates group therapy.
“We just had our third annual event, and the event itself and the amount raised has increased over that period of time,” says Meyer. “Our staff provides vital services… and participants have benefited from being able to connect with people who have had similar experiences.”
The Cottage consists of six full time staff members, 30 hotline volunteers and 15 board members, all of which have increased since 2007 when Sheppard started working for The Cottage. Their relationships with general donors like United Way of Northeast Georgia, and donations from the state of Georgia enable their staff to provide free services like crisis counseling, information referrals and therapy to survivors.
Including Breaking the Shackles, the UGA has a variety of organizations that work to educate the student body on causes like these. Hannah Stanley, a third year student coordinator for UGA’s chapter of International Justice Mission, believes that the student body can champion behind this cause and affect change. Stanley has been involved with International Justice Mission for three years and has seen how education and awareness can directly change people’s lives.
“I want to see UGA’s student body become more involved in on campus organizations and efforts to do hands on work,” says Stanley. With the variety of organizations available at students’ disposal, Stanley also recommends that students get efficient in their involvement. “If we want to end this, we are going to have to get smart about it, and efficiency is a big part is that.”
Breaking the Shackles like many other organizations are continuing work to energize students on subjects like this and help them find roles in the solutions and work proactively to prevent more of these cases.
“We want people to be meeting each other at events… we want people who are justice minded and justice oriented,” says Harris. “We also want to mobilize people… for a majority of our audience, they’re looking for that next step.”
Harris believes that keeping consistent with the core values of community and student body are the best ways to keep this issue at the forefront of people’s minds and help them to tangibly fight for this cause.