By Dani Kardon
The Pigeon Press (Portland, Oregon)
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS GRAPHIC SUBJECT MATTER AND MAY NOT BE APPROPRIATE FOR SOME YOUNGER READERS.
Northwest Academy sophomore Josephine Appleyard starred in “Lost in the Shadows,” a play about sex trafficking in Portland. She got involved with the show when her acting coach, George Elliot, who wrote and produced the play, asked her to perform in it.
Appleyard said there are many reasons why Portland has such a big issue with human trafficking.
“Portland is number two in the country per capita for teenage trafficking and prostitution,” Appleyard said. “We have some of the highest youth homeless populations [and a] high heroin abuse rate.”
These issues are highlighted and exposed in Elliot’s play.
“What I respect about George is that it hasn’t been a lot of like, ‘This is my show,’” Appleyard said. “Treat this as a work by a playwright, because it is and treat this as something as a way to hopefully raise awareness to prevent more girls from falling prey to this.”
Elliot does have somewhat of a personal connection to this topic, even if he may not know anyone who has been a victim of human trafficking.
“I was working on a potential project with another person on world wide human trafficking,” Elliot said. “The more I investigated the more I saw that Portland really is a place that exploited teenagers.”
Appleyard also felt connected to this subject because she is well-educated on the topic and belongs to the most common age group for child sex trafficking, 13-17 years old.
Appleyard played Myles, one of the two female leads. Myles is the one that the pimp uses to recruit other girls and to make it look like fun. This character was also drawn into the sex trafficking business by an unfortunate chain of events.
“In the script [Myles] is given a bit of a backstory,” Appleyard said. “She is from a single dad; her mom died when she was young and she grew up living in Lake Oswego. She had a lot of material possessions, which to her was the equivalent of being loved… Then her dad is arrested and convicted of sexual assault.”
Appleyard explained that her character’s lack of a female role model and the absence of her father put Myles in a vulnerable situation where she could easily be taken advantage of and trafficked.
“She was put in the foster care system, and that’s where it takes its toll,” Appleyard said.
Appleyard’s character is then courted by the pimp, Romeo, who lures her into the trade by manipulating her and giving her presents like designer clothes and shoes. This is how many girls get coaxed into sex trafficking.
Appleyard has a friend who had been in the foster care system and whose story she wishes to represent in her role as Myles.
“Her family was not a safe place so she was put into the foster care system,” Appleyard said. “The foster care system, what happens is, the more – for lack of a better word – the more fucked up the kid is, the more money they get paid for keeping the kid and taking care of them.”
Appleyard said her friend experienced that ugly aspect of the foster care system and parents.
“She didn’t have a mother around, her mother died I believe, and her father raped her and then he hung himself afterwards,” Appleyard said. “So basically what I was hoping to do with Myles is to express how that kind of treatment really can affect you for the rest of your life and how it happens.”
Appleyard wants audiences to understand that blame should never fall on the victims.
“These girls who are in these positions, they aren’t in it because they like having sex and want to get paid for it, as some people I’ve met think that’s what prostitution is,” Appleyard said. “It’s that they have either had life experiences that teach them certain ways of existing. There is a thing called guerrilla pimping which is where they get you hooked on drugs so that you’re in and the reason why you’re in is because you can’t get drugs outside of [the sex trade business].”
A recent story about a murdered sex worker found in the Portland DoubleTree hotel on December 26th hit the cast pretty hard. The group dedicated a rehearsal to Ashley Renee Benson, the victim of the crime.
“The worse [Benson’s] drug habit got, the more vulnerable she probably was to that element,” Elliot said in an interview with KOIN 6. “She didn’t deserve to die.”
Appleyard wants people to be aware that sex trafficking is happening all around them.
“The DoubleTree hotel near Lloyd Center, it has had around 15 unsolved murders that are related to human trafficking,” Appleyard said. “And the the Lloyd Center is right now where it’s the hub.”
In hopes of telling the stories of the silenced, Elliot and his cast are attempting to represent all sides of the human trafficking issue in “Lost in the Shadows.”
“All we’re hoping to do is raise awareness,” Appleyard said. “The evenings that we have our shows, in the lobby we have people from different groups; Door to Grace is one of them, as well as Sisters of the Road. Different organizations that are against human trafficking and provide a safe place for girls to go to who need them.”
There were also pamphlets handed out in the lobby that had information about what to do if an audience member knows a victim of sex trafficking.
“We’re by no means done with it, we’re just looking for a bigger venue and hoping to do it on a larger scale,” Elliot said.
The show ran February 27th – March 7th.
Photo Credit: The Pigeon Press