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LOS ANGELES - Wave a pamphlet listing depressing statistics about sex trafficking, and it will most likely end up in the trash. But blow out a full head of curls and strut in breezy satin, and heads will turn.
That's the simple theory behind Freedom and Fashion (FnF), which operates out of an office in Little Tokyo here: Why not spread awareness of sex trafficking by speaking the language of fashion? The 50-member team works alongside other nonprofit organizations like CAST and Not for Sale to fight the sexual exploitation of women and children. But the team also debates the latest handbags and fall styles-all while rocking pink shorts or spunky belts. FnF serves as a bridge between human-rights organizations and the public. During FnF's annual fashion show, a local DJ blasts music as models strut the runway before 1,300-plus onlookers, and guest speakers along with video clips provide information about human trafficking. FnF also blogs and publishes a glossy fashion magazine each year, splashed with beautiful graphics of rain boots and dresses. The magazine could pass for any other fashion publication, except the text profiles human-rights-conscious designers and projects.
FnF is also novel because its explicit goal is "to render Christian service and share the message of Jesus." (The website notes that "learning about the Christian faith is a voluntary exercise.") A weekly staff meeting this summer featured a mountain of spaghetti and a pot of tomato sauce, but it started with prayer. Human resources manager Chris Baltodono, a dapper 21-year-old dressed in navy ankle-length slacks and boat shoes, talked about the prevalence of sexual addiction in society-even churches. He explained that the roots of it are trauma, dysfunctional families, and an addictive society, and the solution is Christ. He said, "I, too, come from a dysfunctional family."
FnF CEO Bonnie Kim, who has been both victim and perpetrator, sets the tone for her organization. Molested at a young age and then addicted to pornography, Kim says she lived like a "Koreatown gangster girl," with her mind "exposed to all the perversities of the world." At 21, she drove a Mercedes-Benz and flashed an unlimited American Express card. But God used her volunteer work with NightLight, an organization that fights human trafficking and sex exploitation in Bangkok, to show her that she "was glorifying sex in that American subtle way."
After meeting the unglamorous, unsexy "stars" of the porn and sex industry, Kim could no longer detach herself from her indirect contribution to their exploitation. She asked each of the sex workers a simple question: "What do you most want?" The answers-craving a college education, longing to start a business, desiring a family-"tore [her] heart" because they were basic human desires that Kim had always taken for granted.
After she returned home to Los Angeles, Kim couldn't get two words off her mind: Freedom. Fashion. In early 2009, she built those words into a brick-and-mortar organization made up of a "house of insane people" who don't get paid for their work. Baltodono has volunteered for three years: "I love that it's an organization that is so faith-based, yet at the same time relatable to the secular sector. … We don't just preach the gospel, we live it out through our service and ethics."
With the FBI listing Los Angeles as the top human-trafficking hotspot in the United States, volunteer Jenny Kim says she likes "having a direct, local impact. … It wakes people in a different way to realize that [sex trafficking] happens here in our backyard." Diana Lee, who helps style the models for photo shoots, adds, "There's meaning behind this. You're giving back at the same time while doing something you love. It's the best of both worlds."
Jay Delancy still remembers the first time he voted. He was 18. Fresh out of the ballot booth, he called his mother: "Mama, I voted today for Carter and Kennedy!" His mother, who would later hang a John F. Kennedy portrait next to that of Jesus in the family room, had also voted.
Now a 55-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Delancy still values his vote-so much that he is spending his days and dollars as executive director of Voter Integrity Project (VIP), a nonprofit organization that combats voter fraud.
Growing up in a politically charged family of hard-core liberals, Delancy had always been obsessed about the way politics worked. He can list all his votes, but he remembers best the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. As he sat with a "knot" in his stomach next to fellow officers, watching the Florida recount controversy on TV, Delancy felt a sudden powerlessness: "This is not a nation of law, but of lawyers."
That was when Delancy started paying more attention to news stories about voter fraud nationwide, but "you start turning over rocks, and you don't like what you see." Now a conservative, Delancy said it upset him to see strange electoral results in a county, only to have the losing candidates derailed as "sore losers" when they claimed voter fraud. Nobody was investigating these cases, so he decided to be that person.
If VIP is Delancy's combat team, then it's at its recruitment stages right now. Delancy modeled VIP as a large project after other citizen-initiated, anti-voter fraud groups such as True the Vote, but VIP targets only local voter fraud in North Carolina. It operates with three-person teams and has three goals: Train ordinary citizens to patrol ballot booths, gather data that exposes voter fraud, and change the legislative process on the electoral system.
Delancy compares ballot booths to the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's time and says, "If we lose this wall, I shudder to think what will happen next." Although staunchly conservative, Delancy insisted voter fraud isn't a partisan issue, but a constitutional one: "If we don't protect our votes, we lose the Constitution. We lose the country. Twenty years later, your kids or grandkids will wonder what was going through your head not to fight this."