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The Manasseh Project fights human trafficking


Red velvet seats filled with crowds of people that came together to hear Leslie King speak on Sept. 20 as part of “The Manasseh Project,” a program of Wedgwood Christian Services led by Andy Soper that fights sexual exploitation and human trafficking in Grand Rapids.

King is a woman who was sexually assaulted and exploited by male strangers and her own cousin.

The six interns who contributed in the project produced a short film over the summer that shows people a summarized version of King’s life. The video, which had a poetic narration, was named “Purple.”

Before showing the audience the film,  the six interns spoke about their experiences over the summer, and other speakers, such as Luke Hassevoort, a founder of Hope for the Voiceless,  talked about the way the media affects society, and then King opened to the audience about her story. Hope for the Voiceless is another program that fights human trafficking.

“We are being fed these images that define us, and in reality, that’s a lie,” Hassevoort said. He used the video game “Grand Theft Auto” as an example of sexual exploitation to younger boys. If the player drives up onto the side of the curb where women are walking, there is the option to pay a woman for sex. The game then gives the player the opportunity to get money back by killing the woman. 81 million copies of Grand Theft Auto have been sold.

The project exposed ads of women who were transformed into objects specifically for the product the ad was selling.

“The models we see on TV are not real, yet we try to look like them and be like them,” Hassevoort said. “We are all susceptible to the media’s lies. The biggest lie the media tells us is that people are for sale, that people are objects that can be bought, sold and given to somebody else.”

Hassevoort says this can be a reason for so much sexual abuse in our society.

“One in four women have been physically or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives,” said  Hassevoort. “That’s a lot of people, abuse, and abusers.”

He encouraged the audience to listen to King’s speech.

After the video was played, King opened her story with a comedic vibe and thanked the audience for coming to see her. She pointed out that the film had a scene showing the the exact location where King waited to be sold. King explained how she didn’t fit in anywhere at school because she looked different, being a mix of white, black, Indian and Puerto Rican. King explained how her father beat her mother every chance he had.

“Do you know what that does to a child? Do you know what it does to a child, to get ridiculed, to come to find your father beating your mother, who is pleading, ‘please stop,’ and there is nothing you can do? ” King said.

At eight years old, King was sexually assaulted by her male cousin. Overtime, she became obese to make herself undesirable and be left alone. She ran away multiple times.

King told a story about a time when she was 15. A man called her beautiful, bought her clothes, introduced her to his family, and then she and the man went to his friend’s house. King recalls having a few drinks, coming back to her senses and getting sexually assaulted by the man’s friend. The man spouted some disgraceful words towards her, leaving King a terrified 15-year-old girl.

“Standing at the corner of Division, half naked, at 15 years of age, (I was) called all the names under the sun, except a 15-year-old victim, a 15-year-old prostituted child.” King said. “From here to Hawaii, I have been sold.”

King’s life has been that way for 20 years. Her mom had no knowledge as to why King kept running away until one of her speeches last month.

On July 4, 2000 King hit her lowest point–in and out of restroom stalls, eating fast food out of a dumpster, and trying to commit suicide. She received treatment from medical centers. “They would rather medicate me than say there’s a problem in our community.” Since then, King has been clean for 12 years.

After King’s speech, anyone under the age of 25 was asked to stay and take part in focus groups. Each group had a leader that led discussions based on four questions:

  • Are females more culturally or physically abused?
  • What shapes traits of men and women?
  • What population is more affected?
  • What can be done to solve this issue?
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