Lynn Sweetland is a trafficking survivor who has transcended her past and now works as an abolitionist, mentor, and advocate for other survivors.
At age 27, Lynn was in the midst of a volatile divorce and lost custody of her children, which made her a vulnerable target for predators. She met a man who treated her very kindly, then convinced her to take a trip with him to Florida. Within days, the man turned on Lynn, telling her that she would have to pay her own way by prostituting herself. She was taken from truck stop to truck stop across South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina, where she was repeatedly drugged, beaten and raped. Like many women forced into the sex trade, it took Lynn years to realize that she was a victim. She felt as if she was to blame. “I couldn’t talk about it,” Lynn says. “I was too ashamed. I was too embarrassed. I had morals before all this happened. I never would have imagined myself in a situation where I was a prostitute.”
Lynn is one of more than 30 survivors of sex trafficking on the path to recovery thanks to The Hope Project, a faith-based organization in Muskegon, Michigan dedicated to supporting survivors through case management, mentoring, and counseling, as well as and raising public awareness.
Twenty-six years after her rescue, Lynn has reclaimed her life and is helping others find the path to healing. “Being a survivor means I just went through an ordeal, thriving means I have gone through the ordeal and I am surviving past that,” she says. “Transcending is when it is no longer part of my life, it’s a backdrop of who I am but it doesn’t rule me. That is where I am now.”
Once she reached a point in her life that the pain of her experience no longer defined who she was, she decided to pursue a human services degree. While earning that degree, she started working as an intern with The Hope Project in 2014, then worked full-time with the organization as the Office Administrator and Ambassador Coordinator, where she trained volunteers to go out to other venues and raise awareness on human trafficking.
Lynn also began working with several anti-trafficking organizations and traveling across the country to share her experiences. As a public speaker, Lynn gives voice to the stories of other victims and survivors. She knows that her role as an advocate is extremely important to influencing the public agenda. “Survivors play a critical role in developing stronger systemic responses to human trafficking,” says Lynn. “It is important for each of us to tell our stories, because people need to understand what is going on before they can become part of the solution.” In order to increase public awareness about trafficking, Lynn is a speaker and consultant for both the National Survivor Network and the United States Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crimes Survivor Forum. She is involved with the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force and she is also an Advisory Board Member and Mentor at Step Forward, a 12-step recovery initiative that helps survivors lead a life of stability. She serves on the Advisory Board for HRGlocal and on the Board of Directors for Sanctum House, a safe home for survivors that also provides a 24-month training program to help women build life skills and achieve independence after having been trafficked. She has also participated in a variety of trafficking research projects.
Currently, Lynn is working to launch her own nonprofit organization, Stomping Out Slavery Coast to Coast (SOSC2C), that will help increase awareness about sex trafficking and other forms of slavery across the country. SOSC2C will initially focus on the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina. Because the hospitality and farming industries are large employers in this region, along with many racing venues, a significant amount of trafficking is suspected of taking place in the area – although specific numbers cannot be confirmed because trafficking often goes unnoticed or unreported. In order to combat what has become known as the “invisible crime,” Lynn will continue to share her story and her organization will provide training to medical, law enforcement and hospitality industry professionals, human services organizations and shelters, farming communities and local citizens.
Lynn has a Certificate of Training from The Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. She was nominated for both the Michigan Liberator Award and the National Crime Victims Service Award in 2016. She has been featured in several news stories across the country, including articles about trafficking in Michigan, The Hope Project, and trafficking in South Carolina. For more of her credentials, view her LinkedIn Profile.