By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities
WASHINGTON, December 4, 2012 — Halloween was scary to me this year, and it wasn’t because of zombies, ghosts, or gremlins! It was because I was speaking to a group of high school students about the connection between negative messages in the media and the exploitation of young girls. As a teen survivor of child sex trafficking, I was ridiculed in high school with labels like hooker and prostitute. As a result, some of those painful memories boiled up on October 31st as I made my way through the hallways of Hermitage High School in Richmond, Virginia.
But my nerves quickly gave way as the students embraced my presentation with questions and comments and offered me their utmost respect and kindness. It was truly a positive experience, and I was honored to be part of their day. These students are the first teens to be introduced to The Prevention Project curriculum, an anti-trafficking education project started by the Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI).
The Richmond Justice Initiative is a grassroots, non-profit organization that began in 2009. Their mission is “to educate, equip, and mobilize communities to be a force in the global movement to end human trafficking.” Recognizing that victims of sex trafficking are often young girls between the ages of 12 and 14, RJI founder Sara Pomeroy used a $25,000 grant from AT&T to fund a program aimed at educating teens.