Artist seeks to put an end to sex trafficking of children

Lynne Barletta, artist, became Lynne Barletta, 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, then founded Catch the Wave of Hope to raise awareness.

Her nonprofit is in the midst of a high-profile art piece, a 250-foot mural on the side of an AT&T building at 316 Akron Ave. 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 names hidden inside a tattoo. 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’s 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.

Name: Lynne Barletta

Age: 64

Hometown: I grew up in Golden, Colorado

Education: University of Northern Colorado. Ministry degree and ordination from Covenant Centre International, West Palm Beach. Certified in Life Restoration Courses, Dr. Larry Duetchman.

Family: Married to Tony Barletta, (Vice president of Catch the Wave of Hope) with four boys and three grandchildren.

About your company:

I am the founder of Catch the Wave of Hope to abolish human trafficking. We lead the way to bring awareness, healing and action to abolish human trafficking beginning locally in South Florida, nationally and internationally.

First paying job and what you learned from it:

At age 14, I received my first paid commission in Colorado to paint the portrait of the owner of a school in Colorado. I never looked back and have been a professional artist through high school, college and all my life.

First break in the business: I consider the breakthrough period in 2015 of major importance when I was asked to participate in a city-wide art project with murals in Singapore to help raise funds for a home for trafficked and abused girls. It was there that I met a young girl who had been trafficked by her parents since age 8. I worked with her at my side for 10 days with mural projects and she changed my life forever.

How your business has changed:

Catch the Wave of Hope has become a movement that is igniting good people throughout South Florida to stand up and protect their communities.

Best business book: John Maxwell, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.”

Best piece of business advice you received: Do everything you do with a spirit of excellence.

What you tell young people about your business: Being creative and innovative is a great key to success. Giving back and helping the helpless is a key to greatness.

Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it?

I once tried too hard to make wrong people happy. I gave them my time, my energy and my trust. However, I ended up disappointed and hurt. I learned that eagles should fly with eagles, not turkeys. Turkeys will pull you down to their level. I was created to fly.

What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? Expansion and inclusion. Expansion of philanthropy, education and awareness concerning major issues. Inclusion of other counties and across South Florida, a new collaboration.

Power lunch spot: Café Chardonnay.

Where we’d find you when you’re not at the office: With my soulmate trying out new restaurants.

Favorite smartphone app: Facebook.

What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? I look for work ethic with a spirit of excellence.

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