Human trafficking and sexual violence is not easy to talk about, but a local organization that serves as a voice for the voiceless will be raising awareness about it at an important event next week.
The "I AM" Project, a fairly new non-profit in Prince George's County, is inviting the public to attend its first Women's Awareness Conference at the Showplace Arena next weekend. Founder Shelia Smith recently started the organization that is already making a difference. Growing up in Southeast, D.C., Smith saw the harsh reality of violence against women and knew someday she wanted to make a change.
"Women would often suffer in silence," said Smith, who has two daughters. "I see a heart that wants people to hear their story, but they just don't know how to tell it."
At the conference, where registered attendees will learn about resources available to protect young girls and women, a panel of five people will share their stories. One the stories involves a retired marine who tells WUSA9 that it took her years to rise from "trauma to triumph," the theme of this year's conference.
"I was gang-raped at 12, never told anyone and lived with that for 28 years before I even remembered it," said Lynn Oliver, the name she goes by. "With that memory came memories of being assaulted multiple times when I was on active duty as a marine and then other traumas throughout my life."
Oliver's self-esteem took a beating for years, until October 3, 2013, the day she almost lost her life for good.
"I swallowed a bottle of Xanax and washed it down with two bottles of wine," she said. "I flat lined, during that time. I was descending in hell."
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 43,000 Americans die from suicide each year. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
"I'm thankful I survived because I learned firsthand what not to listen too," said Oliver, who said she'd been put down most of her life but learned how to shut out the negativity. Her faith grew stronger during the process.
"I love myself for the first time in my life. I want others to know that it's doable. Just take it one day at a time," Oliver said.
Guest speakers at the conference will include community and faith leaders, FBI Chaplain Steven Davis, and others from the Prince George's County Human Trafficking Taskforce and the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN).
You can register for the event here: http://bit.ly/2pFwC32
Volunteers and donations are also being accepted to support the organization's mission.