Guest post by: Jo Lembo
With the Seattle Aquarium as the backdrop, guests of Shared Hope International heard, many for the first time, that sex trafficking is real and it’s here in our neighborhoods. The Seattle Premier showing of Chosen drew a registration of over 300, many of them sponsored youth from the Puget Sound area. The diverse crowd included Senators who sponsored new, stricter laws, law enforcement who enforce them, caregivers who support the victims, and providers of housing for survivors. Parents, teachers, media representatives, coaches, youth leaders and nearly 100 teens came to learn how to Defend Their Friends, the theme for the evening. Students from University of Washington Law School seemed to represent the United Nations in their small group of ten. One girl shared with a staffer, “I was trafficked twice in Africa. Then I became a prosecutor but it’s very hard to protect women in a country where they are considered property. So I came to the US to get my degree!” Her fire and passion resounded with the promise of greatness as she declared, “I will be the best prosecutor ever to return to my country!”
Nine partners stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Shared Hope including Seattle Archdiocese Council of Catholic Women (ACCW), Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), Connelly Law Firm, Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking (FWCAT), The Genesis Project, Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST), Union Gospel Mission, Washington Women’s Network (WWN) and Youthcare. We all recognize there is a war raging and none of us can win it alone. Shared Hope is grateful for others in the Puget Sound area who are fighting the same battle.
A hush fell over the crowd when survivor, Brianna, stood up to declare the vulnerabilities that were exploited in her, a then barely 18-year old college-bound girl. Her story breaks all stereo-types as she shared how she was an A-student, a cheerleader, an athlete, in a youth group, and the youngest of five children in a two-parent home. She thought she was making choices when a regular customer where she waitressed invited her to Seattle for the winter break. But she didn’t know he had chosen her to groom and sell her into the sex industry. Her friend, Evan, recognized the signs of trafficking because his dad had heard a presentation based on the book “Renting Lacy” at a Rotary Club and had talked to his son about defending his friends. Evan betrayed Brianna’s trust to save her life.
Everyone was riveted as she spoke through tears, “Where were my parents, you might ask?” Brianna answered her own question, “I lied to them. I wasn’t where I said I would be. I kept things from them. They did an amazing job raising me, evidenced in the fact that I can stand before you after what happened to me. I want to thank my parents who are sitting on the front row tonight.” She then urged young people to be aware when a friend is hiding things, being isolated from support networks, has a significantly older boyfriend, suddenly has expensive gifts or is planning to go away without telling her parents. “Talk to them! Tell them it’s dangerous! If they won’t listen, go to a responsible adult and ask for help!”
The program faded into the evening as guests left armed with new knowledge, new tools and new hope shared that I CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Click here to see more photos from Chosen Seattle.