Tricia Ritter, of Blossburg, is like most 16-year-olds. She enjoys hanging out with her youth group. She loves all aspects of music, from listening to composing and even playing it on her guitar.
She also really likes food, but she's made it clearly known that she is a terrible cook. "Anyone will tell you that about me, but I like food," she said with a grin.
However, there is one major difference that sets Tricia far apart from other teens her age - her public stand against human trafficking.
When she was 13, Tricia started researching the sensitive topic of human trafficking after hearing about it. Human trafficking is a horrific crime in which people are abducted or coerced into prostitution, forced labor, slavery or used as unwilling organ donors.
"I felt a calling in my heart to help. I thought I could start by telling people about it. That way more people are aware of it," Tricia said. "The more people know, the more they can help put an end to this horrible crime."
Since then, Tricia has spoken to victims and has shared information about the lucrative and growing crime to hundreds of listeners. She even has assisted in making a 30-minute film in Wellsboro about the issue.
The film, "Remember to Forget Me," is about two sisters who end up being victims of human trafficking for many years. It shows people how easily human trafficking can occur in their own backyard.
"Human trafficking affects the entire world," Tricia said.
According to the International Labour Organization, about 21 million people are victims of forced labor.
The industry makes about $33 billion dollars a year, Tricia said. Tragically, many people do not think about the growing and profitable crime.
In fact, human trafficking quickly is becoming more popular than drug crimes in this country, she said.
As its popularity rises, the victims are getting younger. The average age of trafficking victims is 13, but victims can range from age 9 - or even younger - up to adults.
"There isn't an age that hasn't been touched by human trafficking," Tricia said.
What shocks her the most about this crime is the high demand for it.
"There wouldn't be a need to traffic children or female and male teens or young adults for sex if there wasn't a big demand from those participating in sex trafficking," she said.
Pornography is a leading cause of human trafficking through the sexualization of youth, she said. Such sexualization affects children and teens as they grow up.
Today's youth are corrupted by porn at a very early age, with easy access to computers and online services. In fact, children are viewing sexual images at a much earlier age. Many boys in today's society are viewing pornographic images around the age of 9, Tricia said, citing statistics from Family Safe Media and Covenant Eyes.
Pornography distorts the truth about sex, body image and relationships. It is a major deception to any moral code out there, especially to our teens. Pornography creates an unhealthy and unrealistic desire or need. Which in turns feeds the mind's demand to want the younger sexual individuals portrayed by pornography and many social markets. Therefore, human trafficking owes its' physical existence to those who want to satisfy their unhealthy desires and demands.
WHERE DOES THE ABOVE DEFINITION COME FROM? IT NEEDS TO BE ATTRIBUTED TO SOMEONE.
Tricia would like to see people's hearts change to battle to this issue.
"This is our world; we can't sit back and say, 'Well, I can't do anything because I'm just one person,' " she said. "The world doesn't work like that, it never has and it never will. We need to step up and just take responsibility for what is happening."
She said there are three things people can do to help fight human trafficking. The first step is to educate themselves on the issue.
Secondly, they should live a life that does not support human trafficking. For example, she said, if you have an addiction to pornography, seek help. By supporting that addiction, you support the growth of the trafficking.
Addiction affects both males and females. She advises parents often check what their children are doing online and with their cellphones.
Finally, tell others about human trafficking, get your family involved or even get your community involved. Those who are 18 or older can participate in ministering to victims of this crime. You can help them by supporting groups or organizations set up to assist victims who find a way out.
Surprisingly, states across America have different laws and punishments when it comes to being accused of human trafficking. In many cases, men caught with underage females often get a slap on the wrist and a fine, according to whom?
However, if a teacher did something sexual with a student they are looking at felony charges and mandatory jail time. This kind of punishment should be placed on those caught involved with an underaged trafficking victim.
However, just because there are laws, it still does not do enough to stp human trafficking cases. It also does not help that sometimes it is corrupt law officials that hamper the crack down on human traffickers.
Many believe if each state had the same laws and same punishments when it comes to human trafficking, it would help in the fight to eliminate trafficking.
When it comes to politics Ms. Ritter believes what many others do. Some of the same men have been making the same political decisions for decades. They often hold onto the same ideas as well. It is time to change things up and get some new people in office for a fresh look at things. There needs to be a focus on problems, such as human trafficking and new solutions to solve it need to be brought up if things are going to ever change.
To other teenagers, Tricia says, "This is your world and you are growing up in it. You have a choice to try and change it. You can make it better for future generations. It doesn't have to be the way it is now.
"We made it this way and we can change it through the power of the gospel," she added. "Don't be afraid to step up and don't be discouraged when things don't happen right away. It takes one person at a time to change things."
Ms. Ritter also reminds people that it is not easy to get out of this type of situation. Often when these victims seek help the law does not respond.
Other victims are so young that they fall into a dependency on those abusing them to just to live. Often many of the victims are held captive and everything around them, is in a controlled environment.
Then there is the physical, verbal, emotional and mental abuse. They are often told their family does not want them. Some victims do not feel they deserve to be free. That is a common misconception among victims. "Every victim deserves to be free," stated Tricia. But whatever the case is, try to find help. Or even find a rescue house, there victims can get needed assistance. "No matter what, it is still up to us to help get these victims out," stated Ms. Ritter strongly.
There are multiple places in which donations can be sent to help in the fight against trafficking. One that Tricia supports is called www.betheirfreedom.com/ . Then there are others such as, www.notforsalecampaign.org/ or www.love146.org/ . There is the local Oasis of Hope, that could also use donations just visit www.oasisofhopeusa.org/ . Please consider donating to an organization of your choice that is helping victims of human trafficking.
Ms. Ritter believes that as awareness of human trafficking grows, the number of victims will decrease.
Tricia is an amazingly ambitious teen in high school who has faith in God, loves music, likes good food and stands up to spread the word about human trafficking. It just goes to show you, that one person can really make a difference in this world, no matter what their age is.
Tricia's plans for the summer includes some much needed relaxation before she returns to school in August as a Senior. "I've had a very busy and intense year. I plan on spending most of my time with family, friends and going on some crazy adventures with my youth group," Tricia stated with a smile. "But I will also continue to spend some time on spreading the word about human trafficking," she concluded.
You can help just by simply sharing this story with your family, friends and church. You can have a fundraiser for one of the organizations listed above or send in a donation to any group helping in the fight against trafficking. You can even join this facebook page www.facebook.com/RememberToForgetMe?fref=ts. and support them. So you see, you can make a difference, all you have to do is try.