By Dana Marie Shepherd, on behalf of the Tronie Foundation
As the applause faded, the stage lights rested on four women as they took their seats at a long table, adjusting their microphones, preparing to take questions from a now more-enlightened audience. In the silence before the first question arose, a palpable mix of respect, shock, empathy, and empowerment rested over the auditorium. It was clear all were bearing witness to great courage.
Khurshida Begum, DJ, Yasmin Christopher, and Kristine Harper, each stood before a large audience at the Kenneth J. Minaret Center for the Arts at South Sound Community College, sharing a small portion of the story of their lives as victims of human trafficking. More importantly, on this night, they were sharing the story of their work as survivors and advocates, taking part in Washington State's first survivor-led forum on human trafficking. Rani Hong served as a moderator for the evening, herself a child trafficking survivor and now founder of the anti-trafficking organization, the Tronie Foundation.
Photo © 2012 Dana Marie Shepherd
Each woman shared pieces of a remarkable journey, from all corners of the globe, made still more remarkable by their shared presence at an auditorium in Olympia. India, Tacoma, Bangladesh, Oakville, New York City. Drugs, prostitution, forced marriage, forced labor, slavery, kidnapping. A multitude of differences among five women, but sharing a most rare characteristic: courage.
Their collective courage brought about an evening of education and empowerment. Through the dialogues with the survivors, attendees learned the definition of human trafficking, the ways this crime masquerades as a legitimate business in countless communities across the world, the risk factors for young people to be targeted by traffickers as potential victims, as well as national and community-based resources geared to end the existence of human slavery.
A highlight of the evening included a public acknowledgement and thanks to several individuals who, years ago, had taken steps to free some of the women who were now survivor advocates. Their actions, taken long before "human trafficking" had ever been defined by any law, proved that with courage, even just one person can make an impact on lives for generations to come.
The Tronie Foundation wishes to extend thanks to the survivors who spoke at this forum, and to offer encouragement to the countless survivors who have not yet made their stories known. You are not alone, your life and your voice matter, and your courage will serve you well!