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Collaboration and Partnerships

This past week I attended the National Coalition on Sexual Exploitation Global Summit in DC. This summit saw over 600 leaders and activists from around the world pour into the DC area and learn from, support, and partner with each other, as well as, collaboratively and strategically fight to bring awareness and an end to the sexual exploitation of any human being through various NGO’s and programs as varied as we are as humans.

It was so beautiful and hopeful to be among so many others who are fighting this good fight and as Dawn Hawkins, CEO and Executive Director of NCOSE stated, “Sometimes it can feel lonely fighting this fight. It can feel as if you’re the only one, but that’s one of the reasons we host this event, so we can all see each other and know we are not alone.”

Indeed, we are not alone. In the last decade of fighting this fight I’ve used this analogy in the sermons and speaking engagements I’ve done, “When you drop a small rock in a still lake it makes a ripple effect. Change happens, but they are small changes. However, when you back a dump truck up to that lake and dump a truckful of rocks into that same body of water, it makes a tsunami of waves all around it. Change happens and that change even changes the landscape around it.”

That’s what collaborative efforts do. Partnerships work in beautiful synergy with each other and we will begin to see the landscape change around us. We are seeing change around us already!

At the event I heard many speakers, most of the information I already knew, but some statements reiterate why our team fights for the freedom of every human being. Here are some quotes from the summit,

“In 2018 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Internet tip line received 18.5 million tips of child exploitation.”

and,

“Pornography is filmed prostitution.”

or this comment from Melissa Holland, Executive Director of Awaken in Las Vegas,

“If a daughter is being sexually abused by mom’s boyfriend and that daughter tells her mom and the mother responds with, “You must be wrong. He didn’t do that. No harm has been done.” that is what legalizing prostitution is doing. It’s society telling those being prostituted, “No harm is being done. Everything is okay.”

or this very sad statement made by a panel member, confirmed by the other panel members,

“I do not know one single person who has been exploited who was NOT sexually abused as a child.”

I met advocates, healers and restorers, survivors, owners and executive directors, support staff/volunteers, and those whom are very educated and those who have only a high school degree or less – and in this setting, it mattered not what you had/have – we were/are all advocats, activists, and abolitionists working in synergy, making new friendships and creating new partnerships.

If you have a chance to go next year, I would really encourage you. If you purchase your tickets now, before June 30th, you will receive a 50% discount.

National Center on Sexual Exploitation Global Summit 2020

These are just a few of the ladies I met – all survivors, except one press member. The stories these ladies have are utterly heartbreaking, yet they are using those stories to bring healing, restoration, change, and hope. Thank you ladies. It’s an honor to now call you friend.

These final photos are of a large group of us lobbying on Capitol Hill to #endexploitation in its various forms and one of me.

I heard a quote recently from Sarah, one of the staff members at Amirah House, Massachusetts’ first safehouse for trafficking survivors, and I loved it.

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”― Thomas Merton

The Beginnings

As I contemplated this post I thought about the very beginnings of my fight for women. I am not a feminist, but I saw, early on in my life the inequality of women and how women were objectified and it deeply bothered me.

I remember being 7-9 years of age and finding a stash of Playboy magazines. I glanced through those images and I began to cry. As a little elementary-aged school girl, I was so deeply saddened at the idea that a woman would have to get naked, put herself in compromising positions, and expose herself for the pleasure of men. That thought disgusted me, but more, it deeply deeply saddened me.

Fast forward to middle school, to the first time I was exposed to a pornographic movie. I was at an all-girl’s sleepover. The parents were not home and the host had rented/borrowed a movie. She put the movie in and instantly horrible pornographic scenes filled the screen. I was one of just small handful that ended up leaving the room. But those images, those scenes, stuck with me. I couldn’t cleanse my mind of the things I had seen and I was angry and I was sad and I was hurting for all those girls who had to do that.

Just a year later, at the hands of three high school aged-boys, I would be sexually assaulted, raped and violated three  times.

I did not realize then that the fierce survivor of a woman that was still inside me would someday fight for the equality and freedom and humanity of all these women. I didn’t realize the nuances then that those women may not have been voluntarily doing those photo shoots or filming those scenes, or if they had walked in voluntarily, they may not have fully understood all that would be done to them. I didn’t understand sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, abuse, torture, and the complete and utter degradation and humiliation of women at that time, but I did instinctively know it was wrong. The rapes – I told noone until I met my husband and I knew we were headed toward marriage. I was too afraid.

It was in July of 2008 that the fierce fighter in me was awakened. We lived on a quiet cul-de-sac street in a middle-class neighborhood. On that hot July day, several local police departments, FBI, and SWAT teams swarmed our sleepy street. They parked across the street from us. There was a lot of commotion but by that evening we would discover what was going on.

The man living across the street from us was being arrested and charged with multiple counts of producing and distributing child pornorgraphy. In our state, that was the best charge they could bring against him that would garner the longest prison sentence. However, what that man did was despicable!

While the mother of the three girls living in the home worked a third shift nursing job, the man (not the girls’ father) began molesting and raping the middle daughter, who was just 11. He would record that and upload it to pedophile websites. After some period of time, he began trafficking her, for sex, and recording and uploading those videos as well. This went on for 3 years until that man was finally caught, arrested, charged, and sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

I was enraged. I was a mama and I was enraged. That rage lit a fire under me and I vowed to never sit idly by and do nothing knowing there were such atrocities occurring all around me in the world toward women and children.

That began a path that eventually led to me becoming one of the Director’s of NH Traffick Free Coalition, fighting for the rescue, prevention, and healing of all being trafficked or at risk for being sexually trafficked. Recently that split off and ExPOSE was formed to better tackle porn and keeping our children safe, as well as, tackling sexual exploitation as a whole while NHTFC has become an umbrella organization beautifully bringing many of the NGO’s fighting to prevent/end/provide restorative whole care in NH and Northern MA together in unity and in one collaborative movement working side-by-side, hand-in-hand.

These are the beginnings of ExPOSE. It really has been a lifetime in the making and a Father who loves enough and cares enough to heal the brokenhearted and call me to this fight.

~Bethanee