When many people think about sex trafficking, they imagine it as happening in developing countries far away — not here in the U.S., let alone in Oregon. Lauren Babcock says she believed the same before she began volunteering with Hope Ranch Ministries. “I imagined that it was off somewhere across the ocean,” she says. “I had no idea that it happened in Lane County.”
But trafficking in Oregon is flourishing, and a new Oregon Department of Justice report shows that Lane County’s human trafficking task force identified 120 people trafficked here between October 2018 and October 2019 — the second-highest number of people per capita among the 10 counties that reported figures.
Lindsey Cooper, a survivor of sex trafficking, read a story about her experience at the first Survivor Speakout, which gives sex trafficking survivors a platform to have their stories told. “A lot of survivors are afraid to speak up,” she says, because they feel guilt or shame, or because they are not that far removed from their past situation.
Hope Ranch Ministries, a religious nonprofit that raises awareness about sex trafficking and provides survivors a place to recover, will hold the third annual Survivor Speakout on Friday, Jan. 24, at The Box. Babcock, who organizes the Speakout, says the event grew from her desire for a creative way to educate people about sex trafficking.
The Identity Dance Company, owned by Survivor Speakout co-organizer Cooper, will perform a piece called “Dearly Loved,” which Cooper says is about “being loved no matter what someone has been through.”
Three survivors have written stories about their experiences. Survivors have a choice to read their own stories or have them read by volunteers. “Storytelling is a really powerful way for us to learn,” Babcock says. Cooper says the performances are a unique way to tell their stories in an empowering and validating way.
The suggested donation of $5 to $15 will help cover the costs of the event as well as pay a small stipend to the survivors whose stories are told.
“We’re really careful about survivors’ stories, because it’s their story,” Hope Ranch Ministries founder Diana Janz says. “We don’t give them a lot of money, but we pay them for the story, and it’s a one-time permission, and if we use it again, we would ask them and pay them.”
Before the performances, Hope Ranch Ministries, Sexual Assault Support services and Looking Glass will staff tables while refreshments are served and a presentation on trafficking around the world plays.
After the performances, Janz, Cooper and a detective from the Eugene Police Department will talk on how to spot trafficking and what to do if you see it. “I think it’s important that people know what to look for,” Babcock says. “Especially because it’s so potent, if you can hear this information one time, you’re probably not going to forget it.” Even years later, people may be able to identify trafficking when they see and know what to do, she says.
“I don’t believe that we need to walk in fear,” Janz says. “Because if we are educated — and that really is the key, educated — and we know how to stand up against them, then we are safe.”
Ultimately, what Babcock, Janz and Cooper say they want people to walk away with is hope. “It gives people the encouragement,” Cooper says, “that people have been through it and come back and rebuilt their lives.”
Survivor Speakout starts at 6:30 pm Friday, Jan. 24, at The Box, 661 E. 19th Avenue. A $5-$15 donation is suggested.