More than soap – it’s a lifeline
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.