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Sonoma County Gazette
Human Trafficking in the Bay Area

Strong Survival - Human Trafficking in Sonoma County

May 1, 2018


By Shynie  Lu

I first became interested in the topic of human trafficking in the summer of 2016 when I participated in a Global Health program at the University of Southern California. Every day, the professor guided us to review current approaches to disease prevention and ensuring human rights. I remember the day we talked about the costs of human trafficking, especially the long-term health problems for women. Learning the effects human trafficking shocked me.

I joined the Sonoma County Junior Commission on Human Rights, a group of selected high school students who are passionate about social justice and driving local changes. Students work in small advocacy groups centered around human rights topics, such as racial equality, homelessness, and food insecurity.

My experiences at the global health summer program and with the commission made me want to create a documentary on human trafficking and to show people the realities of what it’s like to be trapped in the trafficking business. After searching for months, I was put in touch with local trafficking survivor, Maya Babow, who was trafficked for six years starting when she was a mere 12 years old.

Interview with Caitlin Quinn, Human Rights Activist, Verity

Trapped in Trafficking

I realized I knew nothing about Maya other than her name, age, and the fact that she had been trafficked. Sitting down in the recording studio with her, I was surprised by how this poised woman sitting across from me, who is only a few years older than I am, had overcome her trauma with such grace. She explained how she came from a good family, was enticed by a promise of a modeling job, and how she became trapped by threats of harm to her family.

Maya tried to keep our interviews as relaxed as possible, but after she told me about the first time the trafficker introduced her to a group of strange men much older than her, she stopped talking and took a long pause. I paused too because I wasn’t ready to continue either. What I ended up hearing was devastating. The feelings her story left me with stayed for days and days.

Maya’s story and her own perseverance motivated me. She gave human trafficking a face, a personality, and real consequences. Seeing her journey, I could not help but feel this issue deserved more attention.

Maya BabowThe documentary“Strong Survival” was released in June 2017. This 30-minute film documents Maya’s experiences with trafficking from the ages of 12 to 18, exploring the psychological and physical harm human trafficking has on victims. Strong Survival also features interviews with law enforcement members of the Sonoma County Human Trafficking Task Force and sexual assault victims’ advocate organization Verity. The film seeks to spread awareness of human trafficking as a pervasive problem in our own community, and educate young people on ways to protect themselves from traffickers.

After “Strong Survival” was released, Maya and I have attended multiple educational panels and partnered with human rights organizations across California to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of human trafficking in all cities large and small.

Maya is Fearless

Despite everything she has gone through, she looks at the future with courage, hope, and gratitude. I have been deeply moved and inspired by her steadfast efforts to overcome the trauma of being trafficked. More than just a colleague, I have gained a friend and mentor, and will continue to work to stop human trafficking until it ceases to exist.

Shynie LuShynie Lu - Director - Shynie Lu is a senior in high school atSonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California. Academically, she has a love for both the Stem field and English. Shynie volunteers at theUniversity of California San Francisco Medical Center works as theAmerican Red Cross Northern California Youth Representative, and is the Chair of theSonoma County Junior Commission on Human Rights. She is particularly passionate about medicine and human rights and has plans to become a Cardiologist.

"We have reached a point where eradicating trafficking is no longer restricted to a few willing individuals. It is our duty to defend human rights. We have the power." - Shynie Lu

Strong Survival

Strong Survival:  Student Documentary Film takes on Human Trafficking in Sonoma County


In August of 2016, Sonoma County Junior Human Rights CommissionerShynie Lu began directing the documentary Strong Survival on human trafficking in Sonoma County. The 30-minute film documents local survivor and activist Maya Babow’s experiences from the ages of 12 to 18, exploring the psychological and physical harm human trafficking has on victims. Strong Survival also features interviews with law enforcement members of the Sonoma County Human Trafficking Task Force and sexual assault victims' advocate organization Verity. The film seeks to spread awareness of human trafficking as a pervasive problem in our own community, and educate young people on ways to protect themselves from traffickers.

“We need to better educate ourselves, learn how traffickers work, and stop the demand. If you can stop the demand, there is no need for supply,” says Babow. She is committed to transforming the trauma of her experience into healing and advocacy, giving presentations at schools and community events and offering her contact info to any young person who seeks help or feels unsafe. Every year, thousands of young women, children and young men become human trafficking victims. According to Verity, the average age of victims entering human trafficking in Sonoma County is 12 to 14. “The goal of the film is to raise awareness of this highly under-discussed issue,” says director Lu.“We wish to educate not only the adults but also children andteenagers so that they can learn to protect themselves and each other.”

In addition to the film, Human Trafficking Committee members Olivia Kulawiak, Casey Dai and Annapurna Johnson have developed an informative brochure on human trafficking statistics and warning signs, in partnership with sexual assault victims’ advocate organization Verity. It is being distributed to all Sonoma County middle and high schools. As human trafficking can be a sensitive topic to navigate for educators and administrators, the Committee is offering schools a screening and presentation with Maya Babow for students. They can also distribute the film’s website and brochures to parents who can use them in discussion with young people.  

The Human Trafficking Committee has been promoting the film at universities, student organizations, and humanitarian organizations in hopes of bringing wider attention to the devastating effects of human trafficking. To date, it has received more than 2000 views and has been screened by the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, the Marin County Office of Education, Northwestern University, Wake Forest University, University of Williams & Mary and the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. To watch the film, please visit

Sonoma County’s Junior Commission on Human Rights TheJunior Commission on Human Rights is a project of the Commission on Human Rights, an appointed advisory board to the County Board of Supervisors. The Junior Commission is intended to provide high school students with the opportunity to participate in advocacy, take an active role in the county government, provide education about human rights issues, and empower youth to make a positive impact on their communities.

Commission on Human Rights Public Meetings: 
May 22, 2018 at 5:30 PM
June 26, 2018 at 5:30 PM
July 24, 2018 at 5:30 PM
August 28, 2018 at 5:30 PM

MONTHLY MEETINGS: Agendas and most supporting materials are available on the Commission’s website. Due to legal, copyright, privacy or policy considerations, not all materials are posted online. Materials that are not posted are available for public inspection between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 575 Administration Drive, Suite 116B, Santa Rosa, CA.

For more information about the Junior Commission, visit the Commission on Human Rights website at: or follow us on Facebook.


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