By Nancy Winston, Senior Director
For Linda Smith, it all began with a filthy wisp of a girl, bold enough to cling to her skirt as she experienced India’s wretched brothels for the first time. Jolted into suddenly believing what had seemed just too far-fetched—that children were being sold for sex on the streets of Mumbai—the representative from U.S. Congress immediately felt the call to be a champion for those little ones.
The organization Linda founded with her husband in 1998, Shared Hope International, was one of the earliest to sound the alarm and raise public recognition of sex trafficking. It has, from that day forward, continuously prioritized the survivors of sex trafficking. With each and every international Home of Hope that was established, the Women’s Investment Network (WIN) program was implemented to assist with education and skill building for independence and self-sustaining employment. At Shared Hope’s own headquarters, the same principles were put into effect; a training program in office management skills has changed the lives of numerous exploited women at risk for trafficking.
With focus on sex trafficking in the U.S. and on the plight of survivors, Shared Hope has continuously increased investment in ways to empower them. Each year, several survivor-led organizations are selected to be funded grant partners. Approximately 60 survivors receive scholarships for admission to the annual JuST Conference with its rich educational content and networking opportunities. At the conference, survivors have a unique opportunity to further invest time with each other and discover avenues to participate in the movement as persons with the lived experience of having survived sex trafficking. As a result, many of the highest rated conference workshops are those led by presenters who are survivors themselves.
One of Shared Hope’s investments in influencing policy is the JuST Response Council. Formed in 2014 the council is made up of experts on the issue of sex trafficking from various organizations; there is strong representation by survivors on this council. In addition, as there is often need for a survivor voice to be heard with regard to legislative issues, Shared Hope provides remuneration for any circumstance where a survivor is asked to participate as one with lived experience.
Shared Hope, with the leadership of Linda, continues to make history in the pursuit to end sex trafficking, remaining committed to empowering survivors every step of the way.
Learn how you can get involved at Shared Hope here.