Ruby Award winner is bringing ‘hope’ home

Founder of Shared Hope International speaks to local Soroptimists

While some people might think sex trafficking is a problem that only occurs overseas, Linda Smith reminded local Soroptimists that it is very much a Northwest issue as well.

Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope International, recently spoke to members of Soroptimist International of Camas-Washougal at Zion Lutheran Church in Camas. Shared Hope, based in Vancouver, exists to prevent, rescue and restore women and children who have been victims of sex trafficking.

Smith, a former Congresswoman, founded Shared Hope International in 1998. She also founded the War Against Trafficking Alliance in 2001, to coordinate regional and international efforts to combat sex trafficking.

Smith and Cindy Coloma have written “Renting Lacy: A Story of America’s Prostituted Children,” a book about sex trafficking in the U.S.

During her presentation to the local Soroptimists, Smith talked about the Protected Innocence Initiative, which seeks to increase punishments for buyers of minors while making victims eligible for compensation to pay for treatment.

Prior to the initiative, the penalty for soliciting a woman or child for sex was a $550 fine and one month in jail. Now, “Johns” are subject to 21 to 144 months in jail, as well as a fine of $5,000, which is deposited into the Prostitution Prevention and Intervention Account. The initiative also routes child sex trafficking victims from the court to intervention services.

Law enforcement will be required to develop a model policy on procedures relating to victims of domestic minor sex trafficking by Dec. 1, and training on the policy must be developed by Jan. 1, 2011.

Before her presentation to local Soroptimists, Smith was honored with a Ruby Award – in recognition of her efforts to make extraordinary differences in the lives of women and girls, while also inspiring and encouraging other women.

The C-W Soroptimists’ award to Smith included $500, which she will apply to the establishment of rescue facilities. Her Ruby Award application will be forwarded to the Soroptimist Northwest Region, for consideration at the 2011 spring conference awards.

Local Soroptimist member Sue Justis said trafficking is a much bigger ‘local’ problem than most people realize.

“Seattle is the number one area [for sex trafficking], and Portland is number two in the nation,” she said. “So we can only assume Vancouver is involved. This is said to be because of the I-5 corridor, plus the Canadian border and large port cities.

“I am very proud of what Soroptimist is doing to raise awareness of the problem and sponsor the Northwest Conference Against Trafficking coalition,” Justis added.

Janis Rink, a local Soroptimist officer, said the presentation regarding Shared Hope International was about a timely topic.

“I thought Linda Smith was dead-on and very passionate about this issue,” she said. “That night, ABC ‘Nightline’ did a segment on Portland and how the city of Portland has the most strip clubs compared to other cities. What a sad statistic for the Pacific Northwest.

“It is an epidemic, and until the laws change, the ‘Johns’ as well as the pimps and traffickers will continue,” Rink added. “I have heard it said when you can take the ‘man’ out of demand, that’s when change will come about.”

Programs funded by Shared Hope International include “On Eagles’ Wings/Hope House,” in North Carolina – a shelter for child victims of sex trafficking and “Villages of Hope” and “Women’s Investment Network” in Fiji, Nepal, India and Jamaica. The network provides survivors of sex trafficking with education, vocational development and life skills to prevent revictimization.

Soroptimist International Northwestern Region will present a conference against trafficking in January, in Portland.

Rink looks forward to attending.

“I am very proud to be a member of Soroptimist International of Camas-Washougal,” she said. “Soroptimist International and the local clubs have taken a stand on sex trafficking and are working towards bringing this issue to light. The more information and education we can give the public, the chances increase in making a difference in the lives of women and girls.”

For more information, visit www.cwsoroptimist.org or www.sharedhope.org.

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