By JOHN FORTMEYER
VANCOUVER, Wash. — An evening event here Sept. 22 will not only convey critical, llifesaving information to Northwest residents, but is designed to serve as a model for doing the same at churches across the nation.
Vancouver-based Shared Hope International, headed by former Congresswomen Linda Smith, is joining forces with the Clark County Sheriff’s office and Vancouver Church (of God) in Hazel Dell to present three-hour training for parents, educators, youth leaders, and students on how to protect youth from sexual predators.
The free-admission event, titled Protecting Our Community’s Children, runs from 6 to 9 p.m. at the church, 3300 N.E. 78th St., Smith said the content is appropriate for ages 13 and older, as it is not a graphic depiction of the horrors of being trafficked, but rather focuses on the manipulations of the traffickers and tactics used to recruit victims into the sex trade. The event will be preceded by hot dogs, chips and drinks from 5:15 to 5:45 p.m.
Those planning to attend are asked to register at onelifeatatime.sharedhope.org/protectchildren
“This event is the first and we are documenting it as a national model,” said Smith. “While we are launching it in southwest Washington, we will be encouraging churches throughout the greater Portland and southwest Washington area to send a representative so they can learn more about bringing it back to their own community.”
A central feature of the evening will be a 20-minute video, Chosen, produced by Shared Hope. The documentary tells the shocking true story of two local “all-American’” teenage girls tricked into trafficking. One of those girls, identified only as Brianna, is courageously willing to take a public stand in the fight against trafficking and will be present for the event, as will John Chapman, a Clark County chief criminal deputy who rescued the girl.
Among the disturbing factors involved in the story of Brianna and the other girl featured in the film is that they became victims even though they are from solid families and were involved in local churches, said Smith
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how many people in these girls’ churches knew them and should have seen the signs of trafficking,” she said. “We think our church kids, that it never would happen to them, but it does.”
During the first hour, everyone attending will hear the story of the two girls and other information about the trafficking industry. Then for the next hour and a half the audience will be split off for several different simultaneous presentations keyed to men, women, youth, leadership and public schools.
All who attend will receive a copy of Chosen as well as other “Faith in Action” materials..
After serving 10 years as a state legislator and then four years in Congress, Smith felt led to found Shared Hope, an investigative and public policy agency, as a result of her own awareness on how extensive the tragedy of sex trafficking had become, even here in the Northwest. “Even then it was hard for me to believe it could be that bad here,” she said.
She is optimistic that more aand more churches are also becoming aware of the problem, which is why more churches are asking her what they can do to help confront trafficking. Smith said a key part is getting pastors to deal with what she termed “an uncomfortable issue.”
For more information on the event, phone 1-866-437-5433. For more about Shared Hope International, go to sharedhope.org