Ten years ago a friend invited me to the Chicago International Film festival to watch a new fictional film that dealt with the issue of human trafficking. Having never heard of trafficking, I accompanied my friend to “Lana’s Rain” to learn more.
I never would have imagined that walking into that theater would be the beginning of a 10-year journey of dedicating my life to ending sexual exploitation and harm.
The intersecting injustices that impact trafficking and prostituted people are many and include sexual assault, racism, economic exploitation, and struggling to meet basic survival needs. Yet with all the human rights violations experienced by this population, I found that they were a group of people frequently blamed for their life circumstances and continually re-victimized by society and the criminal justice system. And it was after spending time with victims in Thailand, India and Chicago that I knew I had to do something. It was my first sense of a true calling.
I founded the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation to focus on the root cause of sexual exploitation: the demand. It is because of the pimps, traffickers and johns that the sex trade continues to flourish and lives continue to be harmed. Any efforts to end sexual exploitation had to include a focus on this root cause, and yet seven years ago little work was being done to address demand.
CAASE’s beginnings were in an office the size of a closet, with me and a group of dedicated interns who believed that we could make a difference in reducing sexual exploitation in Chicago. Seven years later, CAASE is a fully realized nonprofit with nine staff members, an amazing group of volunteers, a dedicated board of directors, and four successful program areas. During my time with the organization we have celebrated success after success, including:
- Producing research that has become instrumental to the movement to address the demand for prostitution.
- Creating and implementing the country’s first prevention curriculum that teaches high school boys about the realities of the sex trade.
- Passing three laws in three years to hold sex traffickers accountable and create resources for survivors.
- Creating countless resources to help people with their own activism to end sexual exploitation.
- Providing legal services to hundreds of survivors of sexual assault.
CAASE has become a national leader in the movement to end sexual exploitation, and our staff and supporters continue to ensure that the organization is at the forefront of this work.
The decision to step down as CAASE’s Executive Director was a challenging one. I have cherished being able to dedicate my time and energy to such important and rewarding work. But after seven years I am ready to move on from leading CAASE to focus on other types of healing work. In many religions, seven is a significant number. It is the number of completion and creation. Though my time as Executive Director at CAASE has come to an end, I know that the organization is moving into a new creation chapter of continued impact and innovative and successful work. There truly is no greater gift than transitioning from an organization one has founded, knowing that the work and organization will continue long after I have gone.
I am more proud of what I have accomplished at CAASE than anything else I have done with my life, and I will always be a supporter and ambassador for the organization. Like many others, I am excited to see how CAASE continues to grow and evolve.
Thank you to each of you for believing in CAASE and supporting our mission. It has been an honor to get to know so many of you and to work together towards a more healed world.
We also want to invite you to celebrate Rachel and all that she has accomplished since starting CAASE in 2006. Please read this special message from Rachel on our website, and join us for party in her honor:
Thursday, May 23
3020 N. Lincoln
6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Please RSVP via the Facebook event here, or email Karen Beilstein at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to attend.