by Erin Drum (Community Engagement and Prevention Director)

You may think you know the story of the woman who is walking the streets of Aurora Avenue in Seattle, selling herself to men each night, and getting her fix in between each client. We see her as someone who became addicted to drugs, lost her job and relationships, and had no way to fuel her drug habit so she chose to become a prostitute. This is the narrative many of us have in our minds of the “prostitutes on Aurora.”

But this woman you see, this nameless face, is most likely the story of a little girl who was a victim of abuse and rape, pimped out by a family member or boyfriend, and given drugs as a tool to subdue her. Fast forward 10 years, a lost education, a lack of rental and credit history, criminal charges for “prostitution” (commercial sex acts that were forced upon her by her pimp), and an addiction to help numb the pain of dozens of “customers” per night… that is the woman you see walking the streets on Aurora. Not someone who chose this life but someone who was forced into selling her body night after night, left without anyone to help, and abandoned without hope.

We know this woman well, as we have served her many times at the UnBound Hope House. At the Hope House–King County’s only home for women over 24 who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation–we’ve witnessed the pain and heartache each woman faces on the street and we bear testimony to the incredible resilience and strength that lies in the recesses of their weathered souls. Each woman’s story is different, yet most bear the resemblance to the forgotten woman–the woman crying out for help with no response.

But in each story of pain lies deep hope. While peeling away layers of years of trauma, an addiction she didn’t ask for, and abuse no person should ever endure, a glimmer begins to appear. Love, connection, and consistency from our staff and members of the community allow this woman to sift through the sheer darkness of her story and discover the pieces of her identity that were stolen. As this process happens, we walk with her through each step and she begins to dream again. She picks up the pieces of who she was, develops facets of herself she’s never seen, and looks toward the future with fresh eyes, full of hope and determination. The one who started as a nameless face on Aurora has been given a second chance and is tackling her future with incomparable fortitude.

Now think back to that forgotten woman on Aurora. If she could, she would ask you, “Please look at me with eyes of compassion, not with eyes of judgment.” She would say, “I need help. Will you be the one who stops and helps?” She may say, “I’m not ready just yet to receive your help,” but you must keep offering. She will request, “I need a team of people to support me and help me recover. Can you help me find my team?” When she is lost in the darkness, she will ask of you, “Will you stand by me? Will you choose to fight for me when I can’t fight for myself?”

The power of human connection is immeasurable. What she needs–the nameless woman on Aurora–is someone who will stop, who will see her as valuable, and who will choose to do what it takes to walk with her along the path ahead.

Seattle is consistently ranked among the top cities for sex trafficking and the solution is in our own hands. Will you choose to help end it? The ways you can join the fight are innumerable. Don’t sit by passively and allow sex trafficking happen in your own backyard. Choose to do something. This is an issue that demands the attention of everyone. Visit our “Join the Fight” page to learn how you can play a part in ending sex trafficking in our city.

She is waiting for you to reach out a hand of compassion and help. Will you respond to her cry for help?