In September 2016, a community event was held in Vancouver, Washington, to educate the public about the signs of trafficking and how to protect our children. It was held in a church on NE 78th Street, and was attended by several law enforcement officers. But it wasn’t just any church, and it wasn’t just any law enforcement in attendance. And it wasn’t just any citizens in the audience.
Seven years earlier, in the same church, a similar training had been held.
The same law enforcement officers had come to hear Linda Smith share about the signs of trafficking, how it happens, what makes a kid vulnerable and what any citizen can do to help. When those uniformed officers left, they knew what they had been seeing, but hadn’t known what it was. Now they began to see what had been in front of them all along.
A probation officer listened intently and left to go to the hospital where one of her charges was…again. The teen had been beaten up again. She’d run away again. She’d been truant again. Only this time, her probation officer knew the questions to ask her. And this time, the girl known as ‘Lacy’ felt safe enough to ask for help and was soon under police protection and moved 4,000 miles away for her safety.
In that room was a young man and his family. They listened intently. And just a short while later, when his friend asked him to help her move out and give her a ride back to Seattle to her newfound ‘friends’ after she brought back her dad’s car… well, Evan knew enough to ask questions and set in motion an intervention that saved Brianna’s life.
That night seven years ago, at that community presentation, the ordinary people in the room were instruments to help retrieve the two girls, whose story was later told in the video, Chosen. Lacy and Brianna were safe now because of a community presentation on the signs of trafficking.
And the video? It was filmed in that same church, in their school hallway, stairwell and classroom. In 2016 it was shown to more than fifteen thousand teens across the nation. The difference in the film is stark: Lacy’s friends didn’t know what was happening to her or how to help her and she was enslaved for nearly two years. Brianna’s friend knew and took steps to rescue her and she was never sold into the horrific sex industry. The difference was knowing.
So in September, when we stood on the same stage in the same church, and talked to an audience of nearly 200 ordinary people, and showed Chosen, we were fully aware that the message had come full circle. The officers who shared their stories and spoke in workshops were passionate to say, “You can prevent trafficking! It will be people like you who make the difference. We didn’t know and then look what happened when we did know! You will be the eyes and ears to recognize the signs and warn young people so they’re smarter than the predators who would do them harm. We will catch the bad guys, but please don’t make us rescue your kids too.”
And Brianna stood on the stage and shared how she was tricked. Because she didn’t know.
There we were, on the same stage with the same people who learned about trafficking seven years ago. And look at all that has happened to educate young people across the nation. Now this crowd will make a difference because now they know.
It’s good to come full circle.