Strong Survival - Human Trafficking in Sonoma County
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.
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.
The 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 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: 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.