INSIGHT:  Bringing the Mission to Life

By Ria Bahadur, Class of 2023

Growing up, I devoured books like candy. Whether it was A Brief History of Greek Civilizations or my long-time favorite, Persepolis, I almost always had a riveting novel to talk about (and hundreds more on my reading waitlist). To me, this naturally made sense—my father is my idolized bookworm and history buff! Our family dinners would start at the usual “how was your day?” and end with debates on things like this: “Democracy and Authoritarianism are two versions of the same ideology!”

My books would, more often than not, feed into such conversations and develop my worldview. I credit these suppers with my lifelong love for “the human element” in current events. But at thirteen, reading Girl Rising by Tanya Lee Stone changed my life as mitigating sex trafficking became my deep passion.

According to the United Nations, sex trafficking is the second-largest crime worldwide and the least known. The United States is the second-largest epicenter of this crime, and Washington is the sixth-largest epicenter in the country. Sex trafficking isn’t just a reality of the developing countries across the sea, but an indiscriminate and stigmatized rampant social crisis. The relative anonymity of the statistics and stories of the sex trafficking victim make thousands more collateral damage.

These stories served a dual-purpose: not only was I heartbroken that such a crime could occur in our world but was filled with determination to end it—for good. Knowledge has always been power, and I believe that applies to every human being. Knowing that the profile most common for a sex trafficking victim was a student aged twelve to eighteen, I saw an imminent need to bring education on sex trafficking and sexual violence in the 21st century to Eastside Prep. Think critically and act responsibly are not just words to me. They are the pillars on which my belief system of awareness and action relies. Eastside Prep has woven these values into our community, from Advanced Spanish: Literature classes where we cover the central American refugee crisis to the bioethics of vaccines that we discuss in freshman Biology. Such education could not only transform the undercurrent that influences the discussion around these crimes but arm empathetic upstanders to change the action taken against it.

Here, I found inspirational partnership and mentorship in Counselor Foote. They were deeply passionate about this topic and in true EPS-style, partnered with me and ran wild with this idea. Together, we developed a seminar called “Sexual Violence and Sex Trafficking in the 21st Century” and wrote the materials for a six-week course that students could take in fall and spring. From making me think critically to questioning my experience and relevance on this research down to the core, Mr. Delaney was able to walk me into this place where my dreams and our effort became a reality.

So why am I telling you this?

Our first run of the seminar just ended. We had full capacity, and to our surprise, a waitlist! Together, Counselor Foote and I embarked on a co-facilitating journey as we, along with our passionate and engaged seminarians, worked to understand the power dynamics, intersectionality, and justice systems around these crimes. We heartwarmingly heard from a team of three that they spent their entire weekend on the seminar final, just because they were having so much fun with it. Action is such a beautiful thing when given to the hands of students. Speaking of action, I’ve been able to work with the State Senate to create a bill that mandates sex trafficking education standards. This groundbreaking bill should help achieve this very same purpose of TALI and drive change beyond our school community.

And where do I start with my gratitude? I’m indebted to my school for, as always, listening to the needs of their students. EPS’s mission is to inspire students to create a better world and acts of understanding like these make that mission come true. Thank you.