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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tucson youth brings sex trafficking to light through fashion

    100,000 children are estimated to be victims of sex-trafficking every year here in the U.S. On average, children abducted into the trade are only 13 years old, according to anti-sex-trafficking organization Sold No More. These numbers have brought the young people of Tucson together to work against the sex-trafficking of minors.

    On Saturday, the youth of Tucson will present a fashion show to raise funding for anti-sex-trafficking efforts, promoting awareness of the reality affecting not only the Tucson community, but the whole country.

    The #Youth4Freedom Youth Fashion Show, created by students in the Youth Empowerment for Success Club at Desert View High School, is the first event of its kind. Roseanna Gonzalez is a teacher at Desert View, the director of the fashion show and the head of the school’s YES Club, which aims to provide Tucson youth with leadership skills. Gonzalez reached out to the Sold No More organization to educate students about sex trafficking and how to protect themselves, but also to inspire their senses of self.

    “The kids were devastated by the statistics. … So we created a fundraiser through a fashion show,” Gonzalez said. “But it’s beyond [that]; it’s working our youth with different mentors in the community and helping [them] work on their positive self-image and self-worth.”

    AWARE, a program partnered with Sold No More, puts on presentations for schools about sex trafficking. Lisa Hansen, AWARE program manager, conceived the fashion show idea with the club during one of its presentations. Other Tucson high schools will also contribute their own efforts to the fashion show.

    Gonzalez said many victims of sex trafficking suffer from lack of positive self-image, and that empowering their self-perception through fashion helps brighten their self-views and outlooks on life; it’s as though a transformation occurs, in her words.

    Hansen said the youth in the club were inspired to put on a fundraiser for the cause. After she listed off some of the usual subjects for fundraising, the kids were not intrigued and wanted to do something different. Hansen then suggested a bridal shop that helps raise funds for combating sex trafficking, Free Ever After, and the idea of a fashion show emerged.

    The show will begin with a spoken-word performance about sex trafficking performed by a Tucson youth. An interpretive dance choreographed by two of the youth directors and the fashion show will follow, showcasing the bridal shop’s best gowns and formal wear. To finish off the night, bands The Mash Unit, Battleground City and Shem Taylor will perform. The night will be full of festivities, but will more importantly inform the community about the reality of sex trafficking.

    “It continues to boggle my mind that people don’t know that trafficking is happening here in our town,” Hansen said. “More than anything, I think the fact is that people have a severe misunderstanding of what trafficking actually is.”

    She said sex trafficking isn’t always a youth being lured into a van and being kidnapped; it can involve people in the family trafficking their own children. She also said Tucson’s large number of homeless youth contributes to kids falling into trafficking.

    The different realities of sex trafficking will play throughout the night in a trailer for a documentary called “Sold in Tucson.” Hansen said the average age for entering the trafficking ring is 12-14, making the issue important for youth.

    “For the youth to be involved as a catalyst for raising awareness in the community is just such a powerful tool,” she said. “The kids don’t have much of a voice anyway, so just getting them involved gives them a voice.”

    Free Ever After sends all its proceeds to Sold No More and other organizations that assist victims of sex trafficking. Operations Director for Free Ever After, Abigail Wilheln, said the dresses are 100 percent donated and help women recreate themselves.

    “Our organization really wants to showcase what redemption looks like,” she said.

    The #YouthForFreedom Fashion Show is Saturday at Epicenter Church at 191 E. Toole. The show starts at 6:30 p.m., and tickets are $5 each. All proceeds will go to Sold No More.

    Follow Erika Parra on Twitter.

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