Corban student helps combat sex trafficking
By SARINA GIRANGAYA
SALEM — At first glance, baking cupcakes and efforts to end sex trafficking don’t go together. But for a Las Vegas, Nev.-based organization called The Cupcake Girls and Corban University student Lisa Ross, the two connect.
The Cupcake Girls’ mission is to “bring respect, resources, and relationship to those working in the adult entertainment industry.” The organization provides resources such as doctors, dentists, financial support and one-on-one mentoring. They bring cupcakes into strip clubs as an ice breaker and to build relationships with the dancers.
Ross said her passion for this cause started in high school, when she was on a mission trip to Ecuador. She was able to work with an organization that helps mothers who were victims of sexual human trafficking. The organization provided the women with jobs making jewelry and clothing as an alternative to prostitution to help support themselves and their children.
“I literally felt God screaming at me, ‘This is your passion, this is what I want you to do,’ ” Ross said, “ ‘Whether it’s here in Ecuador or in any other city, this is my call for you.’ I can’t even describe the feeling.”
Ross is currently volunteering for The Cupcake Girls in Portland. She said Portland has one of the biggest ratios of strip clubs per capita in the country, and the majority of people involved in stripping are also involved in human trafficking.
“I don’t do this for a Reach credit,” said Ross, referring to a program at the Salem university that requires undergraduates’ involvement in various service activities. “I don’t want them to think that I’m volunteering with them because I have to.” Ross has volunteered with Cupcake Girls since September 2014.
Ross is not allowed to go on visits to the strip clubs because she is younger than 21. However, she helps bake the cupcakes, talks to donors and helps organize fundraisers.
Valerie Geer, director of the Reach program, reads each reflection paper students turn in for a Reach credit. Geer said many students serve local teens through youth groups and youth-centered organizations. The age usually targeted to be groomed or kidnapped by a “pimp” or trafficker ranges from 11 to 14 years old, Geer said.
Many victims of sex trafficking come from difficult home situations or are runaways. “A ‘nice’ guy befriends them, acts like a boyfriend, and then the young girl’s worst nightmare begins,” Geer said. “We want to support and love these young people before they get to a place where they feel they have no better options.”
In Geer’s opinion, the first step in serving victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking is to “educate oneself about what is happening locally, in our own communities.”
“It is a problem in Portland, and every major city, but it is also a problem right here in Salem,” Geer said. Geer is currently discovering more resources within the Salem-Keizer are that are focused on assisting sexually exploited youth and women.
“Supporting youth by building meaningful and safe relationships through organizations like Young Life, the Boys and Girls Club, and church youth groups can help prevent trafficking by giving teens a system of support where they feel nurtured and protected,” said Geer.
The Cupcake Girls “make a concerted effort to build a relationship with each and every individual” they meet.
“It’s about meeting people where they’re at,” Ross said. “Just because she’s a stripper and I’m not, doesn’t mean I’m better than her. We’re all people and we’re all equal.”
Ross helped organize a May 17 Sweet Run 10 K and half-marathon fundraiser for Cupcake Girls in the Portland area. Contact her for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit thecupcakegirls.org for more information on other events and ways to show support.
Sarina Girangaya is a Corban University student and a staff member for the campus newspaper, Hilltop News.