Lauren Trantham, 33, has been taking adventures on her motorcycle since she was 21. She's ridden in 15-degree weather, through a hurricane and in a lightning storm. Now the Medford photographer is pioneering a brand-new kind of adventure — a motorcycle ride over 9,000 miles to help survivors of sex trafficking.
Trantham, whose business is called The Women's Photographer, has partnered with Rebecca Bender, a Grants Pass-based survivor who's developed a mentoring program for other victims of human trafficking, to raise awareness across the country through Trantham's Ride My Road project. Along the way, Trantham will donate 40 photography sessions to survivors to help them restore their self-worth and build successful lives, she says.
Trantham says she wants to "humanize survivors.”
“This is a journey of giving back," she says. "As the Women's Photographer, I have seen resilience and heartbreak, and I have also been touched by the challenges that we all face. Ride My Road is my opportunity to take all I have learned in my business and help women on a national level."
Trantham says she will interview and photograph the survivors in hopes of publishing a book when she returns.
"I want to promote faces and stories instead of nameless statistics," she says. "There are a lot of books out there about the sex-trafficking industry, but none that actually highlight the survivors and their triumphs.”
She's already started collecting stories. A survivor for whom she provided a photography session at a Colorado park shared an example of how something very simple can be a big adjustment to living a free life.
“I am trying to learn how to sit in a park and allow myself to feel beauty around me, which I could not do when I was trafficked," Trantham recalls the woman saying.
Bender and Trantham are organizing a crowdfunding campaign through Generosity.com to raise $60,000 in scholarships to Bender's Elevate program, a 16-week intensive course that helps survivors discover their gifts, passions and dream jobs. Help with job placement and one year follow-up support with lifetime access to continued training programs are included. One scholarship costs $1,200.
A Ride My Road (www.ridemyroad.org) launching party is planned from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, at the Schneider Museum of Art on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.
Trantham's parents, Terry and James Trantham, will ride alongside her when she heads north Sept. 3 on the first leg of her journey. EPIK (Everyman Protecting Innocent Kids) riders from Portland will meet her in Eugene and escort her to the Rose City. Her journey will take her to 26 cities, including Minneapolis, Brooklyn and St. Augustine, Fla.
"Survivors of sex trafficking are clearly marginalized in our society, and I think that is because we as Americans don't fully understand the issue," Trantham says. "My mission is to bring awareness to the movement. These women are our girls here in America. With the support, compassion and the mentoring provided by the Rebecca Bender Initiative, these survivors are going to flourish. They will do grand and unimaginable things with their journeys, and that starts by feeling supported and listened to by their communities.”
When asked how she will be when the road trip ends, Trantham says, “I will be a changed person.”
Janai Mestrovich is an Ashland freelance writer. Read her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/awesome-aging.