SOAP Project 2016

For three weeks every September, one of the largest art events in the world, ArtPrize, takes over the city of Grand Rapids. More than 400,000 people visit this city to embrace creativity and vote on which art piece deserves the cash award. During this time, hundreds of people walk the streets, creating the perfect opportunity for us to inform our community on the topic of human trafficking. The streets of downtown Grand Rapids become our platform for raising awareness about the prevalence of this injustice in our area.

Part of this heightened awareness includes Women At Risk, Int’l (WAR, Int’l) co-hosting a community-wide S.O.A.P. Project (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), founded by anti-trafficking advocate and survivor, Theresa Flores, on September 10, 2016. Flores, who grew up in the suburbs of Detroit in the 1980s, was trafficked out of her own home without her parents knowing at the age of 15 by a classmate and his cousins. The pain of this injustice driving her, Flores started the S.O.A.P. Project to reach out to women and girls who desperately need to escape the sex industry but lack the resources to do so.

S.O.A.P. is a project that includes wrapping bars of soap in labels that have the national human trafficking hotline number (1-888-373-7888) printed on them. Hotels are hotspots for trafficking. Victims and customers are easily hidden amongst those who come and go from their many rooms. The labeled bars are distributed to local hotels to be placed in bathrooms, creating the opportunity for victims to seek necessary help. Along with these bars, posters of missing children are handed out to hotel staff members, encouraging them to report any suspicious activity that could occur at their place of employment.

We invite you to join WAR, Int’l on September 10 to help wrap and distribute the bars of soap. You’ll have the opportunity to hear from our WAR, Int’l President Becky McDonald, law enforcement officials, and Theresa Flores herself. You’ll also be invited to join us on outreach as we drive around to hotels in our area to offer them these labeled, complimentary soaps. The cost for the afternoon is just $10, which covers your lunch.

Join us in making the most of ArtPrize this year by creating circles of protection and becoming modern-day abolitionists for women at risk in the greater Grand Rapids area. We have an opportunity to be advocates and catalysts for change this year. Mark your calendars and join us for the S.O.A.P. Project 2016. Registration for this event is required prior to September 10, and can be found on our website at

During ArtPrize, we will also be partnering with the exhibit titled “Stories in Blue,” by Stephanie Sandberg. This piece will use various creative elements to tell the stories of trafficking survivors. If you cannot attend our SOAP event, please consider visiting the exhibit in its entirety during ArtPrize, from September 21 through October 9.

Date: 9/10/2016
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: WAR, Int’l Headquarters
Cost: $10 to cover the cost of lunch

Women At Risk, Int’l Headquarters
2790 44th St. SW
Wyoming, MI 49519
(616) 855-0796

Register Here!

Commencement Speech

President and Founder of Women At Risk, International, Becky McDonald, recently spoke at Cornerstone University for their 2016 Commencement ceremony. Sharing her personal stories from more than three decades of international ministry experience, Becky shared the heart behind WAR, Int’l with students, and encouraged them to care for others in their affliction. Becky reiterated that no matter what degree students pursued at Cornerstone University, all students can become safe places for the wounded within our society. To view her speech, please click on the video below.

Running Toward Healing

Thousands of women in Mexico are exploited in the thriving underground sex industry every year. Because of police negligence and corruption, the high levels of poverty, and the tremendous amount of women in at-risk situations, Mexico has become one of the world’s top trafficking locations. But among the horrific and traumatic experiences that haunt these women, there emerge stories of triumph through the trials, offering hope for improving the trafficking situation in Mexico.

Norma Bastidas has such a story, one of enduring hardships and finding hope. When she NBwas eleven years old, Bastidas’ father passed away and an uncle took advantage of the destitute family, eventually raping Bastidas. At the age of nineteen, she was lured away from her home by a modeling agency that promised her a glittering career abroad. Needing an escape from her poverty and memories of abuse, she found the job too good to be true. As it turns out, it was. There was no job and Bastidas was quickly sold into the sex trade, frequently being drugged, beaten, and raped.

But her story doesn’t end there.

Bastidas was eventually rescued from her slavery and was able to rebuild her life. She moved to Canada, married, and had two sons. However, recovering from the pain of the past was not easy, and her new life lent no relief from experiencing hardship. Her marriage failed, her oldest son was diagnosed with an incurable eye disease that would leave him blind, and she was unable to escape the memories and shame of being sold to the highest bidder. Needing a way to channel the stress caused by her past and present, Bastidas started running. She soon discovered that she had great talent in the sport, eventually becoming an ultra-marathon runner. Devoting herself to running, Bastidas accepted challenge after challenge, competing in over a hundred races. In 2009, she became the fastest female endurance runner in history as she finished a grueling seven-continent marathon in only seven months. She later completed a 2,600 mile run from her home in Vancouver to her hometown in Mexico. Bastidas’ greatest accomplishment, however, was achieved in 2014 when she swam, biked, and ran over 3,700 miles from Cancun to Washington, D.C., shattering the world record for the longest triathlon in history.

Not only does Bastidas run to heal and cope with her trauma and stress, but she also runs to raise awareness and support for survivors of human trafficking. She wants the world to see what former victims can accomplish even in the face of the horrors they experience. She runs to empower and give a voice to those who have been silenced by sexual exploitation and violence. During the last two miles of her record-setting triathlon, a number of sex trafficking victims ran alongside Bastidas to the finish line, while others waited for her at the end to congratulate her and show their appreciation and support.

While Norma Bastidas’ story is one of hardship and trauma, it is also one of hope and perseverance. She continues to run and compete, raising awareness for victims of trafficking as well as inspiring those around her with her dedication and determination to not let her past define her.

Women At Risk, International (WAR, int’l) loves to hear these transformational stories and see the triumph that comes out of hardship inspire others. It is our desire to see all the women who come through our programs experience healing and overcome their painful pasts. While they may not become world-record-setting triathlon competitors, their stories are just as powerful and inspirational. And as victims like Norma Bastidas continue to shed light on the trafficking industry and empower others to overcome and fight back, the power of traffickers in countries like Mexico will continue to weaken and the darkness that surrounds the business will continue to diminish.