Sex trafficking survivor Somaly Mam grew up distrusting men and marriage. In her autobiography The road of lost innocence she says:
“I hate marriage. It puts women in prison. On her wedding day the girl obeys her parents, and when the ceremony is over she is raped.”
Mam’s story struck such a nerve with 25-year-old Sydneysider Stephanie Lorenzo that she formed Project Futures, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to fighting sex trafficking.
This is Project Futures’ strength. It offers young’uns something fun to do, and taps into their social awareness (and believe it or not, they have plenty) at the same time.
And they’re doing it in all sorts of creative and fresh ways – like entering a film on trafficking into the world’s best-known short film festival, Tropfest. Watch their entry, ‘First Date’, here:
The upside of all this for the anti-sex trafficking cause is that it’s getting young men on board.
Lorenzo said Project Futures already had a ”huge network” of young guys who wanted to get involved.
This was vital, she said.
“You go to an event [for this issue] and 90% of the people there are women,” she said.
“This has been labelled a women’s issue. It’s not that we want to take away from that but we want to show that there are really great male role models as well. We’re trying to find [male] ambassadors to stand up for this issue.”
Edward Copeman, also from Sydney, is one such ambassador. A graduate banker, Copeman admits he only became involved because he thought the annual Futures Cycle- a 2-week charity bike ride through South East Asia – sounded like “good fun”.
Plus his older brother Stephen wanted him to come along. (Stephen is on the Project Futures board.)
But when Edward got to Cambodia, and met the trafficking survivors in Somaly Mam’s shelters, he became a believer.
“That’s when it all changed for me – actually going there and meeting the girls. Seeing in some cases how young some of them are,” Copeman said.
“You can’t go and hear stuff like that and not be interested in helping out.”
It wasn’t an easy 2 weeks, Copeman concedes. This was the first year the cyclists visited Mam’s “underage” shelter, which houses girls under 16.
“We met a 3-year-old girl who had been raped by 3 men,” Stephanie Lorenzo said.
“We were just horrified.”
Copeman, 22, was so moved by the experience, he hopes to stay on after next year’s Futures Cycle to help out in the shelters.
As well as raising the $5,500 required to go on the cycle in the first place (all of which goes to the Somaly Mam Foundation), he raised another $6,500 in August by organising a concert at his old school, Shore.
The concert was headlined by another ex-Shore boy, The Whitlams lead singer Tim Freedman.
Copeman agreed that sex trafficking had too long been seen as a female problem.
“There’s really got to be an attitude change on the men’s side,” Copeman said.
“I don’t think men are cruel but when it’s sort of cheap fun for them, they’re complacent.”
Project Futures is now recruiting for its 2011 Futures Cycle.
All those in possession of a Y chromosome - today’s anti-sex trafficking army wants YOU.