More than soap – it’s a lifeline

October 11, 2019

By Jennifer Milewski

Worldwide, an estimated 2 million trafficked children are forced into prostitution, including up to 300,000 of whom are spread throughout every state in the United States. Tragically, reputable hotels often serve as the setting for their exploitation.

Mercy Associate Lynn Anamasi learned of this harsh reality—and a way to take action—through a TED talk by trafficking survivor Theresa Flores. Theresa, in her own quest to “Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution” had started The SOAP Project. She remembered a night she spent as a teenager in a cheap motel forced into prostitution. The only time she was alone between clients was in the bathroom. With that memory, Flores determined to send today’s trafficked children a message to get help–on the wrapper of a bar of hotel soap.

“That talk just broke me,” says Lynn. “I emailed Ty Barnes (director of Mercy Association for South Central and West Midwest). I said, we have to have a workshop, we have to get Theresa here.” Lynn convened a workshop that drew 25 associates for a weekend of education by Flores and local activists. The workshop inspired action: Together, the participants purchased and wrapped a case of hotel soap with a message to call a hotline for help.

“People want to do something, and this is so tangible,” says Lynn. “It’s a simple act and a simple ask.”

In addition, Lynn now trains teams to provide flyers and facts on trafficking with hotel staff. They ask to give 20-minute presentations to staff to teach them what to notice:  Have front desk staff seen children with possessions in plastic bags instead of suitcases? Are children coming to the hotel with one person and accompanied to the room by another? Has housekeeping seen “do not disturb” signs on doors for a long time? Are children around during the day when they should be in school?

Then begins a critical reframing: these are signs of prostitution.

“And then we ask them to place the soap,” says Lynn. “It’s planting seeds.

“People getting trafficked get brainwashed very quickly,” says Lynn. “They may see the bar of soap the first time, the second time….” The unfinished sentence trails off, as if to acknowledge that soap, like prayer, may not yield an immediate answer.

Yet this soap is an act of faith. One located child, one alert to the police, one call placed to the national hotline—Lynn says something happens at each event. Whether or not the soap ever reaches those being trafficked, it surely reaches all of us who hear about the project, when we see that these children are in our midst.

Want to learn more about The SOAP Project? Contact Lynn.

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  1. Fran Demarco, RSM

    Lynn, I am so inspired by your efforts to address this horrific crime in such a positive and concrete way. Educating others to the signs of human trafficking and addressing its causes is exactly what Catherine McAuley would do. Thankyou and all your followers for making Mercy real.

  2. Katie Mindling

    This is so inspiring. Thank you

  3. Fran Repka

    Thank you for this very timely and important ministry.

  4. Jane Francisco

    Lynn,keep on keeping on- you and so many are making a difference.God’s blessings on your work.

  5. Camilla Martocchia

    Amazing what can be done with a bar of soap. Many blessings on this project.

  6. Sr.Cathleen Cahill

    Thank you, Lynn, for your merciful and creative response. You are inspiring. Cathleen

  7. Madeline

    Thank you Lynn for forging ahead with such a compassionate and holy ministry.

  8. Susan Ryan-Anderson

    This simple yet creative idea could save lives! It is true—this soap is a genuine act of faith.

  9. Sharon Schmitz, rsm

    What a wonderful, practical, life-saving ministry, Lynn. Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. Ty Barnes

    Lynn, you are an inspiration to us all. Thank you for your leadership and dedication to bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking. We are grateful for you and the our efforts.

  11. Maggie Conley

    Lynn, It is such a gift for you to share this story with all of us. Your commitment to turn the talk you heard into such concrete actions and a ripple effect is truly inspiring. Thank you for all you do to spread the word and so many other things as a Mercy Associate.