First Midwest human trafficking conference to be held at Lindenwood

The+project%27s+logo+designed+by+the+IMWD+Firm%2C+made+up+of+Lindenwood+undergraduate+students.%0A%3Cbr%3EUsed+with+permission+from+Shima+Rostami.

The project's logo designed by the IMWD Firm, made up of Lindenwood undergraduate students.
Used with permission from Shima Rostami.

KAYLA DRAKE | Multimedia Reporter

A Lindenwood student organized the first human trafficking conference in the Midwest.

Shima Rostami, an international student from Iran, decided to create the Yellow Butterfly Project because she saw a crisis in leadership within the human trafficking movement.

“It’s only a one day conference, but it was two years worth of networking behind the scenes,” she said.

St. Charles County has been a leader in prosecuting human trafficking cases in the state, according to St. Charles assistant prosecuting attorney Jillian Anderson.

In the St. Louis area the most common types of trafficking are either labor or sex trafficking

Rostami is earning her Ed.D., or doctorate in education. It is the only postgraduate degree Lindenwood offers. She also has a masters in criminal justice and a undergraduate degree in law.

In order to solve human trafficking, Rostami said she believes more moral education needs to be developed. For her dissertation, she found servant leadership is the most effective way to connect human trafficking activists and to impact the movement.

Human trafficking either uses force, fraud or coercion to manipulate victims. Rostami believes servant leadership is the exact opposite, using inspiration and consent to gain followers.

Rostami’s lead professor in her dissertation committee, Stephen Sherblom introduced her to the concept of servant leadership, which is someone who embodies humility, transparency and is sacrificial.

“True leaders have others’ best interest at heart, not their own advancement,” Sherblom said.

The conference will bring together the five main leaders within St. Louis’s human trafficking movement: the nonprofit Gateway Human Trafficking, the U.S. Attorney’s office of St. Louis, the Missouri Attorney General’s office, the St. Charles Prosecuting Office and the Office for Victims of Crime in D.C. 

Pedestal catering employee Eugenia Jamerson sets up for the conference, which will take place on Sept. 28.
Photo by Kayla Drake

Over two years, Rostami networked and partnered with each leader in order to encourage collaboration.

“The idea is to have an empowered community that gets to a certain point of transformation where they want to help,” she said.

The goal of the conference is twofold: to teach school counselors, nurses and other people that interact with victims to recognize the signs of human trafficking, and to encourage schools and university programs to implement education about the issue.

The name Yellow Butterfly is supposed to represent the transition, similar to a caterpillar, that needs to be made at an individual, institutional and societal level.

“As a community, we need to transform to fight human trafficking and pass those changes to get to the beautiful butterfly,” she said.

Rostrami said she created the conference as a simulation to measure the success and failure of practicing servant leadership.

Sherblom said before Rostami’s project there were a lot of people who had an interest in human trafficking activism in the St. Louis area, but there was nothing to bring them together.

“Shima provided the binding force by simply starting the discussion on campus and in the community,” Sherblom said.

Rostami started planning the conference eight months ago and has enlisted undergraduate students in her project, such as the IMWD Firm to brand and promote Yellow Butterfly.

Sherblom said her project is timely and if Rostrami didn’t bring her personality into it, Yellow Butterfly would not be nearly as successful.

“I’ve seen her talking to undergraduates, talking to professors, talking to the police chief, talking to the U.S. federal district attorney,” he said. “I mean she talks to all of them the same way. It doesn’t faze her.”

The community for human trafficking already existed, Rostami is just connecting them with this conference. In that way, the gathering of all experts in one shared space, Sherblom said this will be a celebration of sorts.

“The people who are coming really want to know about this stuff and the people who are speaking really want to share.”

People are coming from as far as Indiana for the one-day conference because it is the first conference in the Midwest that is this broad. Usually events narrow in on a certain topic within human trafficking.

Sherblom said Rostami is blossoming the interest that already exists in the community and that St. Louis should be proud of the way prosecutors and police chiefs are handling human trafficking.

“I would say her project is leadership, but it’s such a quiet, gentle leadership,” Sherblom said. “She isn’t coming to tell people what to do or point fingers.”

The conference will be taking place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Anheuser-Busch Leadership Room on the top floor of the Spellmann Center on Sept. 28. The event is free and open to the public.

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