You hide behind a mask for a number of reasons. Sometimes it's for fun, others it's to add some mystery and others, the mask might not be visible, but it's silently there. These are the kind of masks that everyone wears sometimes. We all have elements of life we hide behind. Maybe it's something we're not quite as good at as everyone else. Maybe it's a family issue. It could be something we can control or something we have not control over at all. Our masks are part of who we are, even if it's just a mask you put on to grind it out during hard times until things clear up...we all know what it is to "grin and bear it." There are however those who's masks hide much deeper scars that no one ever planned on getting in life. Situations of unimaginable anguish and things so difficult to talk about, it's a mask that may never be able to come off.
We're talking about human trafficking. Specifically sex trafficking and it's more prevalent than you might ever imagine. Sex Trafficking is defined as an adult that is being exploited for commercial sex through Force, Fraud or Coercion, or anyone under the age of 18 that is being exploited for commercial sex. It's happening right here, and right now. It's happening in neighborhoods like yours and it's happening to kids you'd least imagine likely to ever encounter such a problem. We're not talking about some creeper hanging around the local super center trying to throw a burlap bag over some kids head and run off with them in a van. More often than not, trafficking victims are coerced by a friend or relative. Maybe an older person that seems trustworthy at first, but in the long run their intentions are to win favor with the victim by "grooming" them and then, when the victim feels that they "owe" the person grooming them something, they are stuck. That's where the mask comes in. How can they live with the shame they face now that they are being used for a for profit sex operation? They don't have to, breaking the taboo and ending the cycle is what The Hope Project USA is all about.
Based in Muskegon, The Hope Project USA is a resource and recovery operation for female victims of sex trafficking. A woman, or a girl, can come to them for help and know that they will find caring, compassion, rehabilitation protection and more as they try to bring themselves back from the devastation of being trafficked. Founded in 2006 The Hope Project not only works to help the victims, it works to educate the public of how trafficking works and what to look for. It's a multi-faceted approach to the crisis and they are boots on the ground here in Muskegon to help end the problem.
It takes some money to provide for these women and the outreach to educate others, so like we always do in Muskegon, we roll up our sleeves and get to work on drumming up a few bucks. November 3rd there will be a gala affair at the Watermark 920. There will be glitz and glamour. There will be a LIVE red carpet walk up on The Muskegon Channel for the attendees and the evening will be filled with great food from Ryke's, entertainment, silent auction, 50/50's and more. There will be presentations, dancing, the list goes on and on. While it's a fun night, it's with purpose, and that's to protect the vulnerable among us and find those that prey on them and put an end to it.
Mary Suarez is the Lead Ambassador for The Hope Project and we sat down to talk about the event and some of the fun to be found at the Watermark on November 3rd. Take a listen.
Let's be honest. Who wouldn't love to sweep this under the rug and never talk about it again? Who wouldn't love to forget about all of the "bad things" like addiction, poverty, homelessness, strife, greed and evil. We've made great strides in so many of these areas. We can openly discuss them and face the problems head on. Why should we think of those pulled into the sex trade industry against their will any differently? The Hope Project USA helps their survivors come out from Behind the Mask and go on to a live a life of freedom and self worth and that is something an entire community can get behind. We'll see you November 3rd at the Watermark. To learn more about The Hope Project click below to visit their website.