Virginia Nowakowski: Stage productions remind us that human trafficking is real

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Last Friday night, a crowd gathered in the Lourdes High School auditorium to watch three plays performed by Rochester high school students.

The event was part of "Breaking the Chains of Modern Day Slavery," an initiative of the Sisters of St. Francis to inform the public about human trafficking issues.

John Marshall took the stage first, presenting "Out of Time," the story of a young girl named Mary who is forced into an awful situation. Mary is kidnapped and auctioned off to the highest bidder — in this case, a pimp named Marcus — and used and abused for her body. Also seen is her mother's story, as she desperately searches for her missing daughter. "Out of Time" tells the story of Mary's struggles, and the struggles of the other women Marcus uses, as they are beaten, broken, and eventually rescued.

Taking a different perspective on the trade, Lourdes' production follows Katya Popov, a 12-year-old Russian girl sold by her impoverished parents to trafficker Konstantin Yashkin. Yashkin appears completely benign to Katya's parents, who believe that he is giving Katya a chance at an "American dream" by placing her in domestic service with a "good Russian family" living in the United States. Too late, Katya finds herself a slave to the abusive Sadovsky family. Through the enduring efforts of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) team, Katya is ultimately removed from her deplorable condition.

The final act, "Distorted," won first place from judges Gerald Casper, Pam Captain, and Greg Miller. Century's play depicted the familiar tales of Cinderella, Snow White, Peter Pan, and Meg (from Disney's Hercules) from a shocking viewpoint. Instead of smiling at the stories of two pretty damsels, a mischievous boy, and a wise-cracking woman, the audience witnesses the plight of slaves, domestic and sexual, and a child soldier. Unlike the first two presentations, not every story ended happily.


Although the performances were each unique and highly stylized, they all supported a common theme: awareness. As much as we might like to think that these stories could never occur in southeastern Minnesota, human trafficking can be found right here in Rochester. Thankfully, there are ways to end the misery.

Homeland Security runs two key programs on a national scale. ICE's "In Plain Sight" campaign uses media to raise awareness about trafficking, while the Blue Campaign provides training for law enforcement and assistance for victims. Locally, organizations such as Mission 21 help girls previously involved in sex trafficking to re-enter society.

By learning more about endeavors to end modern slavery, we can work to ensure the safety and happiness of young men and women in our community and our nation.

Virginia Nowakoski is a senior at Lourdes High School. To respond to an opinion column, send an email to

Related Topics: CRIME
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