By Maritza Merino
Sexual exploitation within our community is a topic people tend to avoid in everyday conversation. However, this was not the case on Thursday April 9th at the Boston Seaport Hotel during the Turn On the Light Gala
Boston.- This event brought together community members, activists, and leaders, to shine some light on the industry of commercial sexual exploitation within our communities, encourage survivors to speak up, and also to inspire its audience to take action.
The event was organized by My Life My Choice, a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent the sexual exploitation of young adults.
As described by its director and cofounder, Lisa Goldblatt-Grace, “The My Life My Choice Program brings a strong survivor-led continuum of services that seeks to empower young victims to become leaders in the movement to end exploitation and to learn to fight back against this insidious industry.”
During the gala, survivors shared bits of their powerful stories.
“One of the hardest battles that I’ve had to face was with myself: I thought what happened to me was my fault,” said 17-year-old survivor Sarah in her speech at the gala. “My Life My choice has shown me that I am not alone… In my weakest moments, [my mentor] has lifted me up off the ground and guided me on to the right path.”
Survivor Julia explained how, “victims of exploitation are faced with four choices: return to the life, let the drugs and other substances take control, death, or fight all the odds and change not only to change our life but fight to change the lives of others.”
She continued, “Mayor Walsh, like My Life My Choice, is helping to give young victims of exploitation, like me, a second chance at a life to fulfill our dreams.”
City of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh was granted the Beacon of Light Award during the gala. Unfortunately Mayor Walsh was not able to make the event. Assistant District Attorney Dan Mulhern received the award on his behalf.
The other Beacon of Light Awardee was Holly Austin Smith, a survivor of child sex trafficking and an advocate against all forms of human trafficking. During her speech, Smith explained the importance of Media Literacy within our youth.
“Media Literacy teaches young people to view media with a critical eye and to question negative messages in the media like lack of diversity, discrimination, and objectification of women,” said Smith.
Prior to the survivors and mentors sharing their stories, Turn On The Light hosted a silent auction of 50 different items, ranging from Tom Brady’s signed football to luxurious stays in 5-star resorts in Mexico. All proceeds of this action went to supporting the programs offered by My Life My Choice.
Among attendees included, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, City of Cambridge Vice Mayor Denis A. Benzan, Boston City Councilor, and My Life My Choice board member Ayanna Pressley.
Some of the sponsors of this event ABEKAM, The AMG Foundation, The Boston Foundation, Burke Distributing Corporation, Charitable Foundation, Fisher College, McCarter & English Attorneys at Law, and The New England Patriots, among others.
Other than raising much-needed funds, the goal of this event was to bring people together to hear a common message, “We must stand up against the commercial sex industry and fight for our kids. And use this message to build the movement to end commercial sexual exploitation. The goodwill in the room was palpable and the willingness to stand with was felt by all,” said Goldblatt-Grace.