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Oak Harbor High School student art fights human trafficking
Human trafficking is like putting a barcode on someone’s freedom and Oak Harbor High School student Ryan Delbrouck’s artwork shows just that.
Delbrouck’s art, depicting a barcode in the shape of a person, won the human trafficking program art contest through Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor. The numbers on the barcode spell, “Help me.”
Delbrouck was awarded a monetary prize at a recent Soroptimist meeting and Oak Harbor High School art teacher Kit Christopherson was awarded money for the art program. Delbrouck can expect to see his design on t-shirts that will read, “People are not for sale.”
Human trafficking means illegally trading humans for use in sexual, labor and other exploitation. This is generally done via manipulation and threats.
Seattle and Portland are at the top of the list of areas for human trafficking, said Stephanie Smith, past president and member of Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor.
“There’s really the myth that it’s a situation that happens over there in other countries,” Smith said.
The truth is that the people involved aren’t from other countries or even other cities; usually, they are from the same area that they are being trafficked in. Socioeconomic status has no effect; human trafficking can happen to anyone, Smith said.
Soroptimist fights against human trafficking by educating the public through the Northwest Coalition Against Trafficking and through local events like the high school art contest.
“We thought it was important to involve high school students because high school and junior high are the most vulnerable,” Smith said.
When Christopherson told the class about the project and about human trafficking, he said he received an immense reaction from students to the contest, especially when they learned that human trafficking happens as close to home as Burlington. The common comment among students was that they’d seen the movie “Taken” and assumed human trafficking mainly happens in Europe.
“The response was pretty overwhelming. Most students were passionate about designing a logo to help. It struck the students on a personal level,” Christopherson said. “It wasn’t just something you hear on the news. It’s something a fellow student could be involved in.”
“I think generally when students are informed, they want to make a difference, they want to make an impact in their area and help,” Christopherson added, noting the work ethic and concentration of the students as they worked on the art project.
“It meant a lot,” Delbrouck said of his design. While other students also used the barcode idea, he chose to use it as a simple silhouette. “I’ve never been personally affected but to hear how close it was to where we live, I wanted to spread awareness.”
The contest received approximately 50 entries. Students voted to narrow down the top artworks, which Smith judged. Coincidentally, she chose Delbrouck’s artwork as the best, which students had also decided on as the winner.
“Quite frankly, I was shocked there were that many quality pieces,” Smith said.
But the idea has spread further than Oak Harbor.
Through a conference in Portland, Laurie Chin Sayres, a filmmaker who founded Labragirl Pictures, Ltd., in Colorado, found out about the art project and hopes to use the students’ images in her own documentary about human trafficking.
“Here’s this small little island and this high school and this project has reached across the United States,” Smith said.
As another way to spread awareness, Soroptimist will sponsor a presentation by a survivor at the high school in May. The presenter is 19 years old and from Oregon. She earned a 4.0 grade point average in school, played volleyball and she was a normal teenager until she got involved with the wrong man, Smith said.
The man drugged her and forced her to cooperate with him through manipulation and threatening to hurt her sister, who he had photos of.
“It’s a lot of fear tactics, and manipulation keeps them quiet for a period of time,” Smith said.
The survivor will speak to students about warning signs and her experiences.
“She is a remarkable young lady despite what she’s been through,” Smith said.
For information about Soroptimist projects, visit www.sioakharbor.org.