Florida artist Lynne Barletta became an activist after a visit to Singapore three years ago that she said changed her. She went to Singapore to paint a mural and wound up working with a young girl who had been sex trafficked by her father.
“I was forever different,” Barletta said.
Upon her return to South Florida, Barletta set about learning everything she could about the nefarious world of sex trafficking. She founded Catch the Wave of Hope to raise awareness.
Her nonprofit organization is in the middle of a high-profile art piece, a 250-foot mural on the side of a building in downtown Stuart. Work is underway on the river-themed mural, and children have been successful in finding $100 sponsors for each fish painted. Professional artists will paint other sea creatures for sponsorship, too, with the mural’s planned completion set for the end of January.
Money raised from the mural will go toward creating a home for children rescued from sex trafficking, planned for somewhere in Palm Beach or Martin counties, Barletta said.
Florida law defines human trafficking as the use of fraud, force or coercion to exploit another person for sex, labor or domestic servitude. People might not think of this area as a haven for sex trafficking, but Barletta says it is, to an alarming degree.
The internet has greatly worsened the problem of sex trafficking, especially of children, Barletta said. “It’s more accessible and it’s driven by pornography, which is getting more deviant and more violent. And it’s been hidden in plain sight, but we haven’t recognized the signs.”
As her organization goes into churches, synagogues and businesses, Catch the Wave teaches about the signs of sex trafficking among children even living at home: Unusual tattoos including bar codes or hidden names. Not being able to look a parent in the eye due to shame. New jewelry or an older boyfriend. Also, having two cellphones.
Homes where sex trafficking takes place can be identified, too, Barletta said. They include homes that have more locks than usual; hurricane shutters on all the time or drapes covering the windows all the time; men coming in and out of the home; and someone who sits outside the house a lot.
Rescuing children can be difficult because they are threatened with injury to their families. But Barletta said she has created a new approach to help trafficked survivors overcome trauma and receive healing using art. “If we can save one child, we’ve had a victory,” she said.