Douglas attends conference
on human trafficking in Miami


Elon junior and broadcast communications major David Douglas saw the importance of connections made through internships come full-circle in November. Douglas, who worked during the summer of 2004 as a special projects intern at CBS4 News, WFOR-TV Miami, returned to South Florida for a conference titled "Invisible Chains: Breaking the Ties of Trafficking in Humans."

During his summer internship, Douglas had worked with Michele Gillen, WFOR's chief investigative reporter. It was Gillen's investigation - "The Invisible Chains: South Florida Slave Trade" - that prompted the November conference.

"The conference was among the highest experiences of my life," said Douglas. "I have been working toward my goal of being an investigative reporter, and when you attend something like this you get to see first-hand that you can use your career as a tool to bring people together to change our world for the better."

The Invisible Chains investigative news series exposed Florida as one of three epicenters of modern-day slavery in the United States - something that came as a surprise to Gillen herself.

"[The investigation] was prompted by the American Ambassador to the Holy See, who every time I was on assignment in Italy persuaded me to look into it," Gillen said. "I was shocked when I looked into it and found that it was happening literally in my own back yard."

The conference - a first of its kind - brought together many dignitaries and high-ranking officials, including the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Jim Nicholson. Also present at the conference was John Miller, an ambassador to the U.S. State Department who was appointed to help fight human trafficking worldwide.

According to Douglas, some of the most powerful moments of the event came when the survivors of slavery had the chance to share their stories. They included a woman Gillen originally interviewed for the series. "When Maria told her story everyone was so proud of her for her bravery," Douglas explained, "and then inside your mind you take a step back and realize that she has to share her story from behind a screen because she still lives in fear her trafficker will find her. That's when you realize how horrible this problem is and why we must all work together to stop it, which is exactly why Michele held this conference, to bring awareness and then charge people to work for change."

"I believe and know that only by working together is it possible to write this new chapter," said Gillen. "I think we created a link of hands and hearts coming together to really come up with a plan to stop this problem."

Following the conference, Douglas said he's thankful for an internship that gave him more than he ever imagined.

"When I went to Miami, I was looking to make connections to help me find a job, to learn about investigative reporting, and hopefully come away from the experience more educated about my future career," said Douglas. "What I found was a woman who not only came to work and did her job, but a woman who genuinely cares about the greater good and wants to make a difference in this world, and knows she has the ability to do so. There was clearly so much more on Michele's mind than the next Emmy, and I'm so thankful I had the chance to meet and work with her."

Gillen, a recipient of 21 Emmy Awards, took the time to be a mentor to Douglas and include him in her work.

"I guess the idea was you won't learn without doing, so I'll give you things to do," Douglas said. "I'll never forget the day Michele was doing a phone interview with an electronic-voting expert about the problems Florida was facing with their voting machines and when she finished she handed me the tape and said: 'Go pick out the three best bites from this.' To be trusted like that by someone of her caliber was a great honor."

Douglas said the workshop helped deepen his dedication to helping to illuminate the issue of slavery. "Sister Eugenia Bonetti, who came from Rome to speak at the conference, told me, 'If you don't help unlock the chains, you're responsible for keeping them,'" he said. "She is absolutely right, so look for me to do something to spotlight this problem to the Elon community very soon."

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Last Modified:  11/29/04
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