On March 15, 2016, Juliana Fiorilli called to talk to me about LATO. Her assignment was to interview someone from an anti-trafficking organization and she explained that her teacher had made her aware of LATO. I told her that LATO is a trauma focused organization, not an anti-trafficking organization. I went to explain that helping people who have been traumatized by commercial sexual exploitation was part of our mission. I also told: “I’m a clinician. I help people affected by all types of trauma”. She seemed a bit thrown off. She was having trouble understanding the difference between what LATO does and what an anti-trafficking organization does. I understood her confusion. She asked if we could go on with the interview anyway.
The questions she had prepared were clearly for someone involved in an anti-trafficking organization. I continually reframed the questions to help her focus on LATO. There were many pauses as she processed my attempts to educate her about commercial sexual exploitation and trauma. At some point she asked if it would be possible for her group to talk to “a victim” because the group also had “to do something about human trafficking.” I smiled to myself and explained to her why that would never happen because their confidentially had to be protected. I also thought to myself, that she, like many people, does not understand what those who has been sex trafficked have suffered, that talking about what happened to them could unintentionally be re-traumatizing to them if the listener is not educated about trauma, and that it could take years with a safe person that they had a relationship with to revisit that part of their life in depth. Nevertheless, I sensed the sincerity in her request, a genuine desire to help. At the end of the interview, I suggested that she talk to her school about having LATO come to Merion Mercy Academy, her school, to show the students our docudrama: In Our Backyard: Keeping Our Children Safe From Human Trafficking. She thought it was a good idea and indicated that she would talk to her teacher about it.
I thought that was the last time I would hear from Juliana.
A month later, she emailed me. She still wanted to know what she and her classmates could “do.” Clearly, and not surprisingly, this part of the assignment had not been satisfied by the interview. Juliana was coming back, or had been sent back, to LATO to achieve it. We emailed back and forth, and somewhere along the line, I had become really interested in Juliana and her classmates. I decided to try to help them fulfill what I believed to be an important task, one that was helping to shape their relationships with people they are yet to meet, a trust in the rewards of good work that is well thought through, and a commitment to making this a better world. After some thought I suggested that she and her group write a “blind” letter to a girl who was trying to recover her life. I emphasized that if it reflected LATO’s mission, and if the board approved it, that we would post it on our website. She was delighted and I was happy for her. I agreed to review and edit their letter. She sent the letter to me a week later.
We are reaching out to you with the hopes that our knowing that you are out there will comfort and perhaps, console you. We wanted to let you know that we have been spreading awareness in our school about the issue of trafficking. We believe in you and think that you can reach whatever goals you make for yourself, that you can do great things in your lifetime. As hard as it may be to make a change in your life, please know that we believe in you and know you can do it. People who overcome great hurdles in life are the ones who never stop reaching for success.
Reach for the stars and always remember: We are rooting for you!
Kristen Beckette, Tarathorn Boonngamanong, Juliana Fiorilli, Qichen Lu and Scarlet Xie.
High School Juniors
Merion Mercy Academy in Merion Station, PA,
Class: Social Justice
Project: Preventing Human Trafficking in the Philadelphia Area
Dear Juliana, Kristen, Tarathorn, Qichen and Scarlet:
Thank you for the work you are doing to support teens that are recovering their lives. I would also like to thank your teacher for her guidance and your parents for inspiring you to care about other teens.