She offered me tea when I arrived. I accepted; a mug of green. While she prepared it, I looked around her office, an interior room in the building. Her desk was far cleaner than mine, and her book shelf held what you’d expect of someone working with homeless youth. I turned to the wall.
Affixed beside a white board were two large sheets of paper from an easel pad. All were covered in multicolored handwriting. A lot of it I recognized from my work in trauma. I looked closer; it was specific to prostitution trauma.
Leslie Briner, who works for YouthCare, a Seattle nonprofit serving homeless youth, did a lot of direct services client work but found her interest drawn back to policy. That was what I was looking at on the wall. Policy development for addressing domestic minor sex trafficking.
A lot of it related to the marginalizing of women, creating a space where they are vulnerable, decreasing their options, and, once they’ve been subordinated, using them as objects.
She saw what I am trying to do with stories and how this can help her with the work she is doing.
The idea is that we all do this, whether we are aware of it or not. It is ingrained in our culture.
I was reading Leslie’s thought stream, laid out on the wall. She was framing the issue, but the view she was revealing pointed toward solutions. Toward resiliency and hope.
I was seated when she returned with the tea, after which we fell into an easy conversation. My being the journalist and her being in social services, I had expected some conflict. I realized I had been afraid of her and had felt I needed to prove to her my intentions weren’t exploitive. Instead, I was surprised to find how similar some of our thoughts and approaches to the issue are.
And she got it, she saw what I am trying to do with stories and how this can help her with the work she is doing. While she’s researching and authoring policy, at the heart of what she’s doing is trying to change our cultural norms.
Youthcare is one of the agencies in Seattle at the heart of the response to domestic minor sex trafficking. They were also a client of mine, as I helped them update their entire image library last year. Some of what I learned was touching, difficult, and can’t be talked about. It’s one of the reasons Leslie shifted from direct services to policy development.
At the end of our conversation I felt heartened, more confident and hopeful. Leslie is a wealth of knowledge, an incredible resource, and is driven in her work.
Asking if I could take an iPhone snap of her for social media, I pointed to the white board.
“Tell me about that note you’ve highlighted,” I asked.
Written in large letters, separated from her notes on the stigma prostitutes face were these words:
“You Never Know the End of the Story”
“That’s my reminder to keep moving forward every day,” she said.
“Leaving the Life” is a documentary project by Tim Matsui on grassroots efforts to address Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST). This project is funded by the Alexa Foundation’s Women’s Initiative Grant. See more posts from this project here.