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At 19, actress Lynsey Bartilson has already earned her laurels as an artist. The star of the WB’s “Grounded for Life” has an impressive list of credits, including “That 70’s Show”, “Seventh Heaven”, “Judging Amy” and “Party of Five.” The energetic Minnesota native has also appeared twice with the Joffrey Ballet’s annual “Nutcracker.”

In her pre-teen years, Lynsey had already developed a social consciousness that she says is “ever-expanding.” She first flourished in her role as compassionate artist-wunderkind as performer, creative director and choreographer for the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre’s “Kids on Stage for A Better World” in Hollywood.

More recently, as a spokesperson for Youth for Human Rights, her personal mission is to educate youth on basic human rights and help them become strong advocates for tolerance and peace. (See LA Freedom Vol. 6, Iss. 1.) In this capacity, she is helping to develop a curriculum for teaching children about basic human rights by using the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This, in turn, has piqued her interest in issues of human trafficking, sexual slavery and child soldiers.

FREEDOM: What sparked your interest in the human trafficking issue?

LYNSEY: I’m the youth advisor on the board of directors of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and when I was asked to join that board I was very curious: “Where on the planet are the largest violations of human rights against women and children?” Sexual trafficking was brought up — a huge, huge issue that is virtually buried. Media doesn’t cover it much. It’s the modern-day slave trade. I was shocked that more about it wasn’t being exposed so I made it my mission to help do so.

FREEDOM: How have the abuses you’ve observed helped you to decide where to invest your energy?

LYNSEY: Well, when you have 4 million women and children forced into sexual slavery on the planet and about 50,000 are in my country, and people don’t know about it, it makes you go, “What am I going to do about it?”

Also, I’m an actor and in Hollywood we’ve had a large role in glamorizing prostitution with movies like Pretty Woman. It’s just a movie, but as a young girl you can look at it and go, “Wow, I could become a prostitute and become rich and famous,” and that’s not how it is. These girls are kidnapped, lied to, often drugged and turned into addicts, or beaten into becoming sexual slaves. It’s a nasty situation.

FREEDOM: What level of courage will it take for others to confront these abuses and eradicate them?

LYNSEY: It’s a large issue and a pretty degrading one. This is scary stuff. You read stories of women that were kidnapped from their homes, drugged, who service up to 20 clients a day, so it takes courage, especially for a young woman knowing there are women my age and sometimes a decade younger who are forced into this trade. It’s difficult to look at this issue. There’s a lot of learning to do; the story keeps going deeper and deeper. So, first we have to educate others, and it’s going to take a lot of people to educate others about the situation, but that’s the only way to eradicate it.

FREEDOM: What do you know about sexual trafficking here in LA?

LYNSEY: The west coast is actually a large entry point for women trafficked from Mexico and Central America. There’s a huge situation in San Diego, where hundreds of girls are trafficked into farm camps and forced into sexual servitude. There are hundreds of girls between 12 and 16 years old, trafficked into really nice areas just outside Oceanside and Vista, where the sheriff’s department’s just starting to get a hold on. There’s a large criminal organization trafficking in these girls, and men can take advantage of these girls with impunity because they’re here illegally. It’s devastating. People need to know that it’s not just happening in Southeast Asia — this is right here in our own backyards. I’ve been getting stories from Mexican newspapers yet nobody here in LA seems to have heard much about it.

FREEDOM: What would you like LA officials and community leaders to know about this problem?

LYNSEY: That it cannot be ignored. The steps that have been taken at a federal level have been great steps. With the Victims of Violence and Trafficking Protection Act of 2000, much has been done, but more can and must be done, and the more pressure that can be put on the countries that are the big suppliers of trafficked women, the better.

It’s important for everyone to know that these women may be kidnapped in countries that do little or nothing to stop this trade, but they’re brought to Western Europe and America — right into our own backyards. Where many kids go to San Diego to go to Sea World to play, others of the same age are being kept in brothels and forced to serve men daily.

FREEDOM: Do you have any sense of what you will discover when you pull the string and the whole story unravels — who’s behind all this, who’s making the money from trafficking in women and children?

LYNSEY: There are large criminal organizations, gangs, a sort of Mafia, with suppliers in one country who pick up these girls and pass them on to traffickers in another country, and then the big daddies or pimps who handle them there. Some State Department [officials] say that it will outstrip guns and narcotics within a decade. Many of these criminal organizations also traffic in guns and narcotics.

FREEDOM: What are you setting up to take on this issue?

LYNSEY: Right now I’m working to spearhead a conference with officials and industry people because I think Hollywood needs to take an important role in handling this situation. As an entertainer, that’s one way I can help. It’s important that awareness be raised in the United States. We want to blow it open so that the media will focus on this issue more than they have.

FREEDOM: What can people do if they want to join you and take action against these abuses, or if they wish to report any abuses they may know of?

LYNSEY: They can go online to the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Trafficking of Persons to get more information — and information about other groups, some of which actually go in and rescue these women. There are some great groups out there who help women find legitimate employment and teach them to read and write. Right now I’m working with my group [Youth for Human Rights International] to help women in this country and in other countries through increasing awareness and fund raisers.

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