Human Trafficking Awareness Week showcases art by survivors at University of Northern Colorado | MyWindsorNow.com
Kelly Ragan
kragan@greeleytribune.com

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Human Trafficking Awareness Week showcases art by survivors at University of Northern Colorado

For Janette McLaughlin, painting has always been an outlet.

It helped her when she was stressed at school. It also helped her when the abuse began.

McLaughlin is a survivor of childhood sex trafficking. Now painting for her is a way to share what words can't say.

When she found out about Free Our Girls' Human Trafficking Awareness Week art show, she knew she had to get involved.

“I don’t think it’s enough just to survive. I think there’s an inherent need to make a difference so others have the strength to get out of that kind of lifestyle.” Janette McLaughlin

She hoped her paintings could tell the story of the darkest time in her life and how she healed. She hopes it helps others.

"I don't think it's enough just to survive," McLaughlin said. "I think there's an inherent need to make a difference so others have the strength to get out of that kind of lifestyle."

The art show, hosted at the University of Northern Colorado, ends tonight and will feature two of McLaughlin's paintings.

This is Free Our Girls' second awareness week, said Megan Lundstrom, executive director of the organization that attempts to raise awareness and help those trapped in trafficking. Lundstrom is a survivor herself.

People tend to think of sex trafficking as a big city problem, but rural areas — such as Weld County — struggle with it just as much, Lundstrom said.

"It's not something we want to admit is happening in our community," Lundstrom said. "That's why it thrives in certain communities."

Greeley has a vulnerable population, Lundstrom said, including single moms, financially struggling families, immigrants and refugees. When oil is booming, it has a large, lonely male population with disposable income.

Prostitution and sex trafficking have a large overlap. Lundstrom said even if a third party, like a pimp, isn't controlling a woman, it's likely that woman got into the business because she had no other option.

This year at Human Trafficking Awareness Week, the focus is domestic sex trafficking. The show will feature about 20 pieces, she said, from a number of survivors across the country. Some other pieces not featured in the show will be available online.

"I hope people start talking about this issue more with their families, coworkers and friends," Lundstrom said.

Joy Alona, who uses an artist alias, has a passion for art. She loves drawing and writing. When she heard about the show, she knew she wanted to share her work.

Being rescued was a big deal, Alona said. She didn't know how to get out on her own and wasn't in a position to do so. She was rescued when a school nurse took notice of the warning signs and reported it.

That's why awareness is so important.

"It's not just the girl on the side of the street," Alona said. "If people are more aware that it's everywhere and that it's happening in their own communities, we'll be able to do something about it more effectively."

Alona's art focuses on hope. She draws on her faith for images that show joy in suffering. It's been a difficult road, she said, but she's learning to believe she has value and that God loves her. She wants other survivors to know they can believe in that hope, too.

Human Trafficking Awareness Week

Art Show — “Life after ‘The Life’” a collaborative survivor art exhibit — 9 a.m.-7 p.m. today at the UC Ballroom.

Involvement fair — 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the University Center near the ballrooms

Dinner and documentary, “Boom” — 5-7 p.m. today at the University Center in the ballrooms. Pizza will be provided.

Theater production, “No Name” — 7-10 p.m. Friday, 4-6 p.m. Saturday and 7-9 p.m. Saturday at Gray Hall Theater, 1813 8th Ave.

Warning signs

Appearing malnourished

Showing signs of physical injuries and abuse

Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures/law enforcement

Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction

Lacking official identification documents

Appearing destitute/lacking personal possessions

Checking into hotels/motels with older males, and referring to those males as boyfriend or “daddy,” which is often street slang for pimp

Poor dental health

Tattoos/branding on the neck and/or lower back

Untreated sexually transmitted diseases

Small children serving in a family restaurant

Security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment — barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows

Not allowing people to go into public alone or speak for themselves

How to help

If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at (888) 373-7888 or send a text to BeFree (233733).