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.
“The Prevention Project empowers students to be abolitionists,” stated Sara, “to lead their generations in the fight against human trafficking, and to be the ones who see the final demise of modern day slavery.”
The mission of The Prevention Project is as follows:
We believe that in order to eradicate human trafficking, the selling of human beings for profit, we must educate young people on the lures of trafficking, and invest in character and leadership development; so we not only prevent sex trafficking from occurring, but create and equip leaders to bring a lasting change for our communities and beyond.
The Prevention Project is a 9-week academic curriculum administered to middle and high school students within the classroom. The program focuses on the following:
• educating students on the issues of human trafficking locally and globally;
• developing healthy self-awareness and boundaries;
• strengthening character;
• and fostering leadership.
“The Prevention Project was created, developed, and executed by a committed group of advocates from across the country,” Sara stated, “We have a passion to act against the perils of human trafficking, and we believe that if change is going to happen, it must begin with the younger generations.”
When Sara approached me to participate in the project, I was excited to include an element of media literacy in The Prevention Project curriculum. As I have stated in the past, I believe that media literacy is pivotal to any trafficking prevention program geared to teens.
RJI launched The Prevention Project in September 2012, and RJI members are working with other schools in the area (and in other states) in order to expand their program. As a survivor advocate, I have supported and continue to support any legislation which will require awareness and training materials to be provided to schools on human trafficking.
“From school teachers to parents, from teenagers to college students, there is a place for you on The Prevention Project team,” Sara urged, “We can match your greatest talents and gifts with our greatest needs; join us in a movement that brings justice, freedom, and healing to victims of slavery.”
For more information about The Prevention Project or the Richmond Justice Initiative, please visitwww.rvaji.com.
Educating the next generation is crucial to the prevention of commercial sexual exploitation of children, as well as all other forms of human trafficking happening within America and beyond. I encourage school administrators across the nation to investigate available programs and to include one which best suits their schools’ goals and needs.