INTRO events spread awareness on sex trafficking

Leslie King was sexually abused as a child, an experience which left her feeling lost and vulnerable. When she met a man that told her she was beautiful, she believed and trusted him. Suddenly, at age 15, she found herself standing on street corners in Grand Rapids being “sold to the highest bidder,” fearful for her life and her family’s lives if she didn’t do what she was told.

Recounting her story in her website, King describes the names she was called by people on the street.

“No one seemed to see me as a 15-year-old,” Leslie said. “No one looked at me to see that I was being used, abused, sold. It was like the whole world just saw me as trash.”

King lived the life of a prostitute for 20 years until, after a suicide attempt, she called out to God and heard an answer. She went on to found Sacred Beginnings, an organization dedicated to helping women in West Michigan that have been victims of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and substance abuse.

Human trafficking makes $32 billion to $40 billion annually. It is the second largest grossing illegal industry in the world. It happens all over the world but it also happens closer to home. King was trafficked in Grand Rapids, and King’s experiences are not isolated instances.

This week, the International Reconciliation Organization (INTRO), a student led organization, will be putting on events at Calvin to spread awareness of human trafficking on both worldwide and local levels.

On Nov.28,, INTRO is showing the documentary Nefarious: Merchants of Souls at 7 p.m. in the Commons Lecture Hall. This documentary demonstrates sex trafficking on global level.

The documentary shows how large the sex trafficking industry has grown and how large the issue is.

“[U.S. State Department] estimates there are 27 million slaves being held worldwide — more than at any point in human history,” the “Nefarious” website says.

On Nov. 29,, there will be a panel discussion on sex trafficking in places like Grand Rapids, featuring speakers from all different organizations that deal with sex trafficking. This event will also be at 7 p.m. in the Commons Lecture Hall

The speakers will include Andy Sopper from Manasseh Project, Carmen Kucinich from the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, Meahgan Pear from the Michigan Abolitionist Project, Calvin nursing professor Sara Koster and detective Pete Kemme from the Grand Rapids Police Department.

Freshman Rose Clousing, a member of INTRO who helped plan the events, said that INTRO is excited for the events, and hope that they are successful in bringing some light to the issue at Calvin.

“The goal INTRO has for this event is for students to realize sex trafficking doesn’t just happen in other countries, but also in places like Grand Rapids,” Clousing said about the Thursday night panel.

Senior Adam Wiersma, a leader in INTRO, said that every year INTRO choses a single issue to focus on and plans an event spreading awareness on that issue.

Wiersma said that INTRO chose sex trafficking this year because they thought it was a topic where there was “already some, but not extensive knowledge about at Calvin.”

“Moreover, we felt it was a problem in which there was a desire to know more in order to prevent or change the current state of sex trafficking,” Wiersma said.

INTRO hopes the events will not only spread awareness, but empower students to take the next step to learn what they can do to help.

“The purpose of this event is to learn more about this relevant issue; but also, once you have that knowledge, what one can do,” Wiersma said.

Clousing agrees and hopes the events will help students be aware of actions they can take in this particular phase of life.

“We also wanted to help students who have already heard some about sex trafficking find ways to help address this issue as college students,” Clousing said.

The events this week, and all the events hosted by INTRO, are meant to show why students, as Christians, need to strive for reconciliation.

“There are so many social justice issues worthy of our attention,” Wiersma said. “This is just one effort to better understand the injustice and brokenness of our world as well as our role in reconciliation as Christians.”