'Project Abolition' deals with horrors of human trafficking

This past weekend “Project Abolition,” an event to teach audiences about the relatively unknown problem of human trafficking, took place in the Taylor Little Theatre.

This event was collaborative in nature with many groups teaching the audience through artistic expression and true-life stories.

The most powerful moments were provided by Theresa Flores who spoke about her heartbreaking story.

She was forced into the sex trade for two years, all the while having to hide it from everyone because if she didn’t, they would kill her family.

She says the only thing that got her through this unbearable time was her faith in God.

Flores has now written a book telling her full story and has founded the Gracehaven House in Ohio, a therapeutic home for girls under 18 who have been victimized by sexual exploitation.

Senior Lindsey Smith originally started this project after learning about human trafficking about two years ago.

This weekend’s performance was intended to raise awareness, and because of the expressive nature of performance, those involved were able to provide an image of what it is like to be trafficked.

Local dance school Erie Dance Conservatory performed “Grace,” a piece full of metaphors of the cold felt by trafficked victims and the grace that comes to save them.

Smith’s own choreography, “Cry Freedom,” displayed the trapped and tortured lives victims are forced to live.

Girls’ names are replaced with numbers, they don’t get to sleep more than three or four hours a night and never keep the money they earn.

In “Faces of Trafficking,” SoMar Dance Works collaborated with local composer Erik Meyer and musicians Lynn Johnson, Anna Meyer, Marika Koch and Gloria Rhodes-Evans.

The piece was a poignant portrayal of the tragic stories of victims of sex trafficking.

It shocked audience members by bringing to the stage the hidden real-life situations of helpless girls who are coerced into becoming prostitutes and raped on a daily basis.

Project Abolition taught a lot about the problems of human trafficking, as the dancers spoke about the lives of victims.

The traffickers regularly drug the victims so girls become addicted to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. If they tell anyone, they know the traffickers will kill their family members.

Sisters Barbara Daugherty and Laura Wingert are part of the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking, whose mission is to educate and advocate for the prevention and abolition of human trafficking.

They made clear that human trafficking is not just the sex trade, but also sweatshop labor, nannies, maids and custodial services.
It is basically the illegal buying and selling of people for labor of any kind.

They stressed the importance of spreading awareness about the problem and the necessary support for legislation to end human trafficking.

The tragedy of it all was brought to life in the event’s dances and was supported by the poetry readings of Thomas Forsthoefel, Ph.D., professor and chair of religious studies at Mercyhurst.

He’s also the 2010-2011 Poet Laureate of Erie County.

His poem “I Leave” told of the struggles of gay religious figures and the standards of the church that they must combat.

Another poem he read called “Tsunami,” to commemorate the recent disasters in Japan, adverted to the cause and effect of natural disasters and persuaded listeners to acquire mindfulness on the issue.

Junior Kristen Marincic also recited her self-written poem, “The Ghost Within.”

It revealed the inner struggles of human traffic victims and how the ghost of child rape stays with a person forever.