Masked ball raises funds and hope for trafficked girls/women



By Cynthia Price

“Behind the Mask,” the masquerade ball sponsored by The Hope Project, is glitzy and a lot of fun, but attendees are reminded that the cause it supports is very serious.

“One thing we fight all the time,” says Mary Suarez, coordinator of the ball and development director for The Hope Project, “is the perception that it doesn’t happen here.

We, and others, have been trying to tell people that it does for so many years, but the perception still persists.

“People don’t even like to say it out loud.”

The “it” she refers to is sex trafficking, in which young women are human-trafficked specifically so that the traffickers can profit. Sex trafficking is much more prevalent in the United States than most know  – Michigan has the second highest number in the nation for trafficking, second only to Nevada, though that may be because the state does a better job of reporting.

Since 2006 when it started, the goal of The Hope Project has been to create a home so that trafficked girls aged 11-17 can heal from their traumatic experiences. (At times, the people who traffic the girls are their own parents, so a physical, safe space is needed.)

Along the way to making that home a reality, The Hope Project has instituted many programs for trafficking victims, and continues to expand those it has been able to help.

Creating the girls home is not just a matter of bricks and mortar, but also – in addition to jumping through licensing hoops –of putting all the services in place to ensure safety and healing.

Therefore, funds must be raised for staffing, and the very successful four-year-old “Behind the Mask” event has been key. “We had 500 people this year, versus 300 last year,” says Suarez. “It’s so much work, but as it starts I just look around at everyone there and say to myself, ‘It was well worth it.’”

This Saturday, Nov. 9, there will be another fund-raiser when Toast and Jams restaurant on Henry St. will give all its proceeds to The Hope Project from 7 to 10 a.m.


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