Bow student working to help human trafficking survivors

  • Abbey Coe at the Red River Theatres in downtown Concord. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/21/2017 11:21:05 PM

A Bow High School student is using her senior project to try and change the way people think about human trafficking, one bra at a time.

Abbey Coe, 17, of Bow, is organizing a showing of the movie “Sold,” an adaptation of a novel by the same name by Patricia McCormick, at the Red River Theater in Concord on Aug. 24 at 6:30 p.m. as part of her senior project. 

The movie follows 13-year-old Lakshmi, who leaves her rural Nepal village for housecleaning work in Kolkata, India believing that she’ll be able to send money home to her family. Instead, she finds herself working in a brothel called Happiness House; eventually, she is rescued by a group of investigators.

For Coe, who has an interest in international relations and identifies as a feminist, the movie was “painful” to watch. 

“It gets really personal, it’s really sad,” she said. “This girl was so young, she had no idea about what she was getting into.”

But Coe said she wants to do more than just raise people’s awareness about human trafficking – she wants to change how people see survivors. She said she was surprised to learn that most women are trafficked domestically instead of country to country.

According to the Polaris Project, an international organization dedicated to helping human trafficking survivors, 20.9 million people are affected by human trafficking globally. Of that figure, 55 percent are women and girls, and 26 percent are children. The Polaris Project reported 8,042 cases of human trafficking in the United States, a 35 percent increase over 2015. 

Human trafficking is also closer to home than most people think, Coe said. There have been 36 instances of human trafficking in New Hampshire from 2007-16, according to the Polaris Project. The organization reported 173 victims involved in cases with “high” level of human-trafficking indicators, and 45 victims involved in cases with “moderate” levels of human-trafficking indicators. 

“This is something we don’t think of as something that happens in New Hampshire or the United States, so I feel like people think they don’t have to think about it,” Coe said. 

Enter “Free the Girls,” an international nonprofit which gives bras to women who have escaped sex trafficking, who then sell the bras for profit. The organization currently works out of El Salvador, Mozambique and Uganda. 

As part of the viewing of “Sold,” viewers are encouraged to donated their old and gently-used bras, which Coe will collect and send to the organization.

“I thought it was a really unique idea,” Coe said, “not just to get women out of human trafficking, but to help them turn their lives around.”

In addition to the showing, Coe is also working on a research paper about societies that have increased gender-based human rights violations and is volunteering with the Mill Brook School to work with Title I students.

It’s a lot of work, Coe admits, but she’s no stranger to heavy lifting – a gymnast for 10 years, Coe now lifts weights competively, and is planning to start AP Chinese in the fall. 

And, she notes, nothing compared to the struggle of those escaping human trafficking. 

“Most of the women have had little to no formal education, and therefor little solutions for a way to make a living after their escape,” she said. “...And a lot of them get judged for being sold, when they didn’t have any other options. It makes me feel really lucky.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter @ActualCAndews.)

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