Many of us are aware of the problem of sex trafficking here in our own country, but less are aware of how big of a problem it is up and down the I-5 corridor. Even less people are aware of the wide range of demographics it takes its victims from. Due to the complex psychological and emotional abuse, 99% of all sex trafficking victims never escape.
Shine A Light is a local organization started in 2012 by Mary Rogan in her effort to apply the yogic principles she had learned on the mat into her community and beyond. These principles took the form of a yoga class created to help victims in the world of sex trafficking. In today’s interview I will be speaking with the current executive director Celina Reppond about the upcoming fundraising event on January 27th at 5-7 pm here in Ashland in the Grand Ballroom of the Ashland Hills Hotel.
Hi Celina, thanks so much for speaking with us today. Please tell us about the concept of Shine A Light.
Thank you! Shine A Light is an event that exemplifies the act of putting on the mat principles into off-the-mat action. The idea is to give yogis a chance to extend the benefits they have personally experienced from yoga to others in our community and beyond. This could happen in many forms. Our avenue is through changing the direction sexual assault is headed, which, in its most extreme form, is sex trafficking.
Please tell us about the event.
Each year, our 12 yoga teachers gather between 150-200 participants made up of their students and the community at large for a massive fundraiser. The fundraiser takes shape as a yoga class taught by candlelight in solidarity to end sex trafficking. Each attendee donates or fundraises $108 through our website to support our cause.
What specifically does Shine A Light accomplish?
Shine A Light raises money for local and national organizations who are making great strides in the sexual assault and trafficking world. Our intention is to help support them financially so that they can spend more time doing what they were designed to do – end sex trafficking.
Please tell us about your event speakers.
This year, Rebecca Bender will be speaking. Rebecca grew up in Southern Oregon and was enslaved in the sex trafficking world for 6 years. She has become an international speaker and author and is the founder of her own organization, The Rebecca Bender Initiative.
What are the biggest misconceptions about sex trafficking?
The average age that boys, but mostly girls, are lured into into the sex trafficking world is age 12. Many are taken from small towns up and down the I-5 Corridor and brought to work in bigger cities. Portland is nationally one of the biggest hot pockets for trafficked children due to its lax labor laws. The biggest demographic tends to be homeless youth, but adolescents from functioning families are not immune, especially if a child has experienced chronic sexual abuse. They can be identified and tend to by the prime targets of perpetrators.
Please talk about the “Romeo man” and the role he plays.
In the case of young girls, they are screened by young males sent out in search of new commodities. These young males act as charming older boyfriends who have expendable money to lavish on their young victims, promising dreams of running away together. Courting can take up to 6 months in order to convince these girls of their devotion. Once taken to bigger cities, where these girls know no one, they are mentally, emotionally, and physically abused and the safety of their families is threatened if they don’t comply.
Originally, you were focused on supporting organizations in India. Now you are supporting organizations locally. Please say more.
Trafficking was already a huge issue in 2012 when Shine A Light first began, but awareness was minimal, and there weren’t many local organizations designed to address the problem. Now we know that sex trafficking is the most extreme version of sexual assault. Until we address the problem of sexual assault, how insidious it is, how overlooked and swept under the rug it has been in our society, we’ll never end sex trafficking. That means we need to look at the billion dollar porn industry and how it is changing the way our youth see sex from such a young age. Authorities need to understand that prostitutes who are trafficked (90% of all prostitutes are) are not criminals, they’re victims. These things ARE changing, and we are supporting the organizations who are making these things happen.
99% of victims never get out, what happens to them?
They usually die in the trafficking world, either violently or overdosing on drugs. The average lifespan of a child once they are forced into trafficking is 7 years.
Last year you raised $44,000. How was this money used to help?
At this point since so few adolescents are recovered once they get in, we focus on prevention. We fund Jackson County SART (Sexual Assault Response Team). SART is currently fulfilling a national mandate which requires public schools to teach about sexual assault in K-12. SART begins by teaching young children about good and bad touch, but by middle school, kids are learning how to identify possible sex trafficking perpetrators and friends who may be at risk.
Another program we are working with is the Maslow Project because they support our most vulnerable community, homeless youth. This year we will be supporting the Jackson County Sex Trafficking Task Force, a new task force that has just begun under the umbrella of Community Works. They are going to be trying to tie together all the organizations that may come into contact with sex trafficking victims. We also support Wake Up, an Ashland organization that provides specific trauma therapy for sexual abuse. You can find out more about the national and international organizations we partner with on our website, www.iwillshinealight.org
What are you all doing when you are not focused on this event?
We are getting the word out to other yoga studios across the country who may want to join us in our efforts to bring on the mat principles into off-the-mat action.
What is the cost for the event?
Admission to the event is $108 and participants can raise this through the crowdfunding page provided once they sign up online.
Tell us about the transformation of the attendees at the event.
Last year, our speaker, Staysha Hackman, who is a survivor, spoke about the impact Shine A Light had on her. She said that after feeling isolated and without hope for so many years, she was truly touched that so many people would gather in solidarity for her and other victims. She said it was truly moving.
How can our readers participate and what are the next steps?
You can attend our event or donate to our cause by heading to our website: www.iwillshinealight.org
Shine A Light
264 Village Park Drive, Ashland