Bonnnie Brann. Photo by Sarah Radmer 
Bonnnie Brann. Photo by Sarah Radmer 

Putting on headphones can take you to another place. Putting on headphones at “SOLD: The Human Trafficking Experience” will teleport you to the life of one of nine victims of sex slavery and trafficking. 

The free exhibit will be held at the First Free Methodist Church (FFMC, 3200 Third Ave. W.) through Friday, Jan. 17. It will open on Tuesday, Jan 14 from 6 to 9 p.m. and on Wednesday, Jan. 15, and Thursday, Jan. 16, from 10 a.m. to noon, 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. 

FMCC is offering the space, many of the volunteers and funding. 

The exhibit is a multi-sensory, multimedia experience that lasts 40 minutes in nine different rooms in the church’s gym. It tells the stories of nine sex slaves from around the world, including the United States. People who attend are encouraged to tweet, video blog and share pictures of themselves in the experience. 

The content of the exhibit is graphic and may not be suitable for children under 13 or survivors of abuse. The warning is there because the stories are graphic, said FFMC Pastor Bonnie Brann. 

“For most kids under 13, that’s probably not your first conversation to have with them [about human trafficking],” she said. 

Brann was pleased to learn that people who attend the experience will be offered two tracks: spiritual and non-spiritual. 

“I think it is a spiritual issue in that it represents the worst in people in terms of the people who are trafficking,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to come in here and feel like they’re going to have to do a church thing.”

Still, FFMC has made human trafficking a major part of its mission. The denomination was founded during abolition days, when it took a stand against slavery, Brann said. Eight years ago, an FFMC missionary experienced human trafficking firsthand in Cambodia. When he came home, the congregation founded the Set Free Movement. 

“The recently retired president of SPU (Seattle Pacific University) and I reworded a resolution to our national conference saying, ‘We need to step back up into the anti-slavery movement because, guess what, it’s worse now than it’s ever been,’” Brann said. 

The Polaris Project estimates there are 27 million modern-day slaves. Every year, 1 million children are trafficked. Seventy percent of female victims are forced into the sex industry; the other 30 percent are forced into labor.   

An issue close to home

The “SOLD” bus arrived on Tuesday after a stop in Bellingham, Wash. 

FFMC and SPU students are running the exhibit. Students created a Set Free Club at SPU that partners with the church. The club has about 90 student members on its email list, with a strong core of about 20 students, said club president Chelsea van Essen. 

Van Essen is studying human biology and theology at SPU and wants to spend her life doing spiritual, emotional and physical healing for victims of the sex trade. There have been different iterations of the club in past years, but this is the first year it was a solid club. Next year, it may grow into something even bigger like a school initiative or minor or major. 

A lot of people associate human trafficking with something that’s far away from their life and beliefs, van Essen said. 

“People around the world, in Seattle and in Queen Anne are being exploited,” she said. “There’s a mindset that people can’t do anything about it. But being part of a movement takes a whole lot of people to get involved.” 

Brann and FFMC are doing other work, too, like creating a safe presence to take back Westlake Center, remodeling a Seattle safe house’s kitchens, encouraging foster care and adoption at the church and volunteering at drop-in day-care center for brothel workers’ children in Athens, Greece. 

The philosophy of the Set Free Movement is to partner, Brann said. She wants to make sure the group is helping and not replicating services. “If we go in too many directions, we won’t make a dent,” she said. 

Brann wants to educate people who are unaware about the problem and how deep it goes. People are just starting to understand what a major role Seattle plays in human trafficking, she said. 

“I think that people don’t understand it’s not just an ethnic issue or a class issue,” she said. “Little boys and little girls are being recruited everywhere.” 

The goal of the “SOLD: The Human Trafficking Experience” exhibit is to “create new futures, be an agent of hope and healing and to end modern-day slavery.” With FFMC’s large congregation and the SPU students, there’s a great opportunity to make a difference, Brann said. She wants people to visit the exhibit and realize this is local and global. 

“This is a great opportunity to immerse yourself for 40 minutes,” she said, “to walk through and see, ‘Oh, my goodness — this is really going on.’”  

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