Why we must never end the fight against sex trafficking

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In the same week, the anti-trafficking community both lost a survivor and gained an advocate who once got arrested for soliciting a prostitute.

The contrast between both stories illustrates why we must never end the fight against sex trafficking. There is both darkness and light in this battle, but the light will always win.

The survivor

Jennifer Kempton, a victim-turned-founder of the nonprofit Survivor’s Ink, died Thursday morning. A 911 call directed Columbus police and medics to a house where she was found alone on a hallway floor, unconscious and unresponsive from an apparent drug overdose, according to The Columbus Dispatch:

“Sexually abused at age 12, Kempton told The Dispatch in late 2014 that she was doing what she could to move past a series of abusive relationships and cocaine and drug use. She had prostituted herself on Columbus streets to pay for drugs for her and a former boyfriend. She had been kidnapped and taken to an Akron-area hotel, where she was raped and forced to have sex with a stream of men for more than a week. Later returned crying to Columbus, she was forced by her former boyfriend to get a tattoo that said: ‘Property of Salem.’

In trying later to right herself, Kempton had that tattoo covered with a heart-shaped lock holding a key, representing God unlocking her chains. A flower covered a gang sign on her neck, and a name on her back was covered by the words, ‘I believe again.'”

That tattoo removal became the inspiration for her nonprofit, Survivor’s Ink, a local organization that uses tattoo art to replace slavery brands.

Jennifer’s death is heartbreaking, because I personally knew her. Almost a year ago to this day, we were planning our first anti-trafficking event together. Dozens of people attended Stories against Slavery, a unique event at The Narrows that featured local artists and advocates. Our event even received praise from Gov. John Kasich in a letter written to the event organizer:

“The stories of survivors like Jennifer Kempton and others who bravely share their experiences are heartbreaking indeed. But these stories, along with the powerful advocacy on display this evening, also offer hope and a message that the anti-trafficking movement is gaining strength in Zanesville and other communities across our state.

Because of partnerships like these, in communities throughout Ohio, our state and local law enforcement, social services and advocates are together increasing awareness of human trafficking and working to help those who have been cruelly exploited. It is my pleasure to recognize the efforts of the survivors, artists and coalition partners who are with you this evening to help the most vulnerable among us who cannot speak for themselves.”

Jennifer’s surprising death is a sobering reminder that the fight against sex trafficking is complex. It’s not enough just to rescue victims from the streets and hope they remain sober. Each day, we must help restore them back into society.

The solicitor

The day before Jennifer died, another shocking event took place. A young man who got arrested for soliciting a prostitute graduated from She Has A Name’s anti-trafficking training.

I personally met this man while teaching at the Reduce Demand John School program for people who have been arrested for soliciting prostitutes. Led by former Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Scott VanDerKarr, this all-day class is taught by licensed counselors, survivors of sex trafficking and other people from the community. It targets men who are mostly first-time offenders in Central Ohio with no record of violence.

The goal of this class and similar programs is to “decrease the demand for prostitution, and hence, reduce the amount of human trafficking and sexual exploitation that occurs,” according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s John Schools Report. As of 2013, 50 cities in the United States were operating some form of a john school — including four in Ohio.

She Has A Name is trying to help these men understand the impact of their actions and address the root causes that drove them to solicit. This program aligns directly with our vision — “to see all those impacted by human trafficking restored into society and thriving in their community.” That includes men, even those who solicit prostitutes.

And it’s paying off. Last week, that young man I met graduated from his first anti-trafficking training and wrote this note:

“Over the past few years I’ve been battling loneliness and depression. These struggles led me to make the worst decision of my life. A few months ago, I found myself at rock bottom and made the decision to solicit. Thankfully, I was arrested and stopped short of making a horrible mistake. I knew going into the program that I wanted to get involved in the fight against human trafficking, but after participating in the program I knew I had to.

The program opened my eyes to the world of human trafficking and in my heart I knew I wanted to help in anyway possible. Through my experience I found a relationship with God and gained a better understanding of the awful world of human trafficking that prior to this experience, I knew nothing about. I wish more than anything I could take back my mistake but in a strange way it’s made me a better person. I now know I can move forward and help out and be a part of what will someday put an end to this horrible battle.”

This young man’s surprising turnaround is an encouraging reminder that the battle against modern slavery can be won. He is living proof that God can change the heart of even those who once fueled the demand for paid sex.

And that’s why we must never end this fight.

 

Finalist in the Indie Book Awards!

The Black Lens NGIBA_2017_Finalist_HiRes_RVjust became a First Novel Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the largest awards program for independent authors and publishers.

That means my debut novel will be distributed at the Book Expo America event in New York as a counter-top handout at registration desks.  The Black Lens will also be promoted to book buyers, library reps, news media and industry professionals.

Established 11 years ago, the  Indie Book Awards honors the most exceptional independently published books in over 70 different categories. It is presented by Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group in cooperation with Marilyn Allen of Allen O’Shea Literary Agency.

This is now the third contest The Black Lens has placed in. My debut novel also won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards and became a semifinalist in the Book Pipeline movie competition.

Learn more about the competition here, or buy a copy of The Black Lens on Amazon.

The Black Lens: From Fiction to Film

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Screenwriter Jonathan J. Anderegg just finished a draft script for The Black Lens, which beat out more than 1,300 other books to become a semifinalist in the national Book Pipeline movie competition.

That means The Black Lens will receive consideration for industry circulation and personal development assistance from Script Pipeline executives as part of this national contest, which awards “authors with material appropriate for film or television adaptation.”

The Book Pipeline competition builds upon the success of Script Pipeline, which has discovered hundreds of new writers over the past 16 years. Book Pipeline aims to deliver unique, compelling stories to the industry with the specific intent of getting them on the fast-track to film and television production.

Here’s the official review of my debut novel from Book Pipeline:

“A provocative story through and through that exposes the “underbelly” of sex trafficking in America. Revolving around two daughters and a mother who struggle to survive in a cruel and day-to-day lifestyle, the story is both gritty and incredibly eye-opening to a world that has remained largely ignored or hidden due its depraved and illegal nature.

The writing style was extremely vivid, pulling the audience into the raw realism of a chaotic environment and the constant state of self-preservation victims of the sex trade have to endure. This narrative also seems to promise a gripping progression of events when one of the daughters chooses to pursue vengeance on her pimp for killing their mother. From what can be seen here, it seems very plausible that a concept of this design would garner interest from producers or studios seeking to adapt an original dark thriller.” 

This is now the third contest that The Black Lens has placed in. My debut novel also won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards and became a finalist in The Liberator Awards.

Learn more about the competition here, or buy a copy of The Black Lens on Amazon.

 

Writer’s Digest magazine features The Black Lens novel!

WD0617The national Writer’s Digest magazine just ran a front-cover feature story about The Black Lens novel in its May/June print edition, which reaches about 70,000 subscribers across the country.

The detailed article came after my debut novel won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book AwardsThe Black Lens beat out more than 600 other books in this national contest, which “spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors.” The Grand Prize includes cash and a paid trip to the national Writer’s Digest Conference.

“Gritty, unforgiving and in some places downright shocking, The Black Lens is nevertheless a stunning read, from the first page to the last,” wrote the Judge in the 4th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards. “This book rivals — if not surpasses — its commercially published brethren. It may indeed raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation of women in the same manner as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Twelve Years A Slave  did for slavery.”

Read the full article here. You can also read more reviews of The Black Lens and order a copy on Amazon.

 

Great review from Book Pipeline movie competition!

10523564_938121036238879_4350303501968172407_nThe Black Lens did not win the Book Pipeline movie competition, but it received a great review and became a semifinalist after beating out more than 1,300 other books in this national contest, which awards “authors with material appropriate for film or television adaptation.”

That means The Black Lens will receive consideration for industry circulation and personal development assistance from Script Pipeline executives.

Here’s the official review of my debut novel from Book Pipeline:

“A provocative story through and through that exposes the “underbelly” of sex trafficking in America. Revolving around two daughters and a mother who struggle to survive in a cruel and day-to-day lifestyle, the story is both gritty and incredibly eye-opening to a world that has remained largely ignored or hidden due its depraved and illegal nature.

The writing style was extremely vivid, pulling the audience into the raw realism of a chaotic environment and the constant state of self-preservation victims of the sex trade have to endure. This narrative also seems to promise a gripping progression of events when one of the daughters chooses to pursue vengeance on her pimp for killing their mother. From what can be seen here, it seems very plausible that a concept of this design would garner interest from producers or studios seeking to adapt an original dark thriller.” 

The Book Pipeline competition builds upon the success of Script Pipeline, which has discovered hundreds of new writers over the past 16 years. Book Pipeline aims to deliver unique, compelling stories to the industry with the specific intent of getting them on the fast-track to film and television production.

This is now the third contest that The Black Lens has placed in. My debut novel also won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards and became a finalist in The Liberator Awards.

Learn more about the competition here, or buy a copy of The Black Lens on Amazon.

 

Speaking at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

Cover Art and Head ShotI just got invited to speak at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City about self-publishing The Black Lens novel.

The invitation came after my debut novel won Grand Prize in the 2016 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book AwardsThe Black Lens beat out more than 600 other books in this national contest, which “spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors.” The Grand Prize includes cash and:

Here is the official review of The Black Lens from Writer’s Digest:

“Gritty, unforgiving and in some places downright shocking, THE BLACK LENS is nevertheless a stunning read, from the first page to the last.

Zoey James and her developmentally delayed sister Camille live a hardscrabble life in a trailer park. Photographer Aidan is bored with covering pet parades and illegal fireworks for the local newspaper and gets a tip that ‘something [is] going on — something big involving a lot of people — that’s going to blow up this f*** town.’ How their worlds collide combust into an explosion of sex and violence involving corruption, prostitution and human trafficking.

With an adept use of description, characterization and action and through use of simple yet powerful language, author Christopher Stollar alternates chapters from Zoey’s and Aidan’s points of view, further building suspense.

And the material is not just graphic for the sake of it. ‘There are 20.9 million victims of forced labor and human trafficking, including 5.5 million children,’ writes the author in an end note. And this book did indeed take a village: published with funds garnered from a Kickstarter campaign, the author is donating 10 percent all proceeds to organizations that battle modern slavery.

But with an eye-grabbing cover, a structure that seamlessly interweaves the overall theme of photography (and pornography), this book rivals — if not surpasses — its commercially published brethren. It may indeed raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation of women in the same manner as UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE did for slavery.”

To read more reviews of The Black Lens, please visit the Reviews page or go to Amazon.

Great review from The Roosevelt

16938539_1318118358275961_2333066865447284600_nCheck out this great review of The Black Lens novel by The Roosevelt Coffeehouse, the No. 1 coffee shop in Columbus according to Columbus Underground:

“It’s the type of day when you grab a hot coffee and a good book. We carry a book by the incredible author, Christopher Stollar, The Black Lens. It captures the fictional tale of a young girl caught in the human trafficking world. A great read and resource for recognizing evil and preventing it from rearing its ugly head.”

The Roosevelt is a social enterprise that uses coffee to fight hunger, unsafe water and human trafficking. You can pick up a copy of The Black Lens at their shop while sipping a cup of coffee or enjoying a pastry.

Columbus Underground also reviewed The Black Lens last year, saying it “is clearly the work of a journalist. It exists to inform and disrupt, and it succeeds.” Check out the full review here.

To read more reviews of The Black Lens, please visit the Reviews page or go to Amazon.

5-star review from a mentor of sex trafficking survivors

jack5.000x8.000.inddA mentor of sex trafficking survivors just gave The Black Lens novel a 5-star review on Amazon, saying this book “captures the essence of their stories:”

“Christopher did an excellent job of raising awareness of sexual slavery and human trafficking. Through my experience of being a mentor I have come to know several sex trafficking survivors quite well. This book captures the essence of their stories, their pain and their struggles to obtaining healing. The tragedy of human sex trafficking is alive and well in our cities and towns.”

Over 100 readers, reporters and bloggers have now reviewed or rated The Black Lens on both Amazon and Goodreads with a 4-star average. Here are two other reviews from survivors of trafficking:

“As a survivor of sex trafficking myself, I went in with concerns that this fiction book wouldn’t accurately portray the reality of trafficking. Society has so many misconceptions about human trafficking because of movies like Taken and false imagery of girls with chains … With that being said, my concern of this book adding to those misconceptions diminished more and more as I read. This book is not only an engaging page turner but also accurately portrays how some young girls get pulled into this horrific life. I highly recommend this book.”

Jennifer Kempton, survivor of sex trafficking and founder of Survivor’s Ink, a nonprofit organization that funds cover-up tattoos to replace slavery brands

“I am a survivor of this horrific crime and the author did a fantastic job capturing what a victim truly experiences. Though this book is fiction, it happens just like this in our country. It was compelling and riveting and I couldn’t put it down. It is a must read for every parent and teen.”

Theresa Flores, trafficking survivor, founder of TraffickFree and best-selling author of The Slave Across the Street

To read more reviews of The Black Lens, please visit the Reviews page or go to Amazon.

Fighting sex trafficking with coffee, clothes and books

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What does coffee, clothes and books have in common?

In Ohio, all three products are being used to raise funds and awareness for anti-trafficking organizations.

This month, I got another opportunity to speak at She Has A Name’s Anti-Human Trafficking Organization Fair. The unique event highlighted groups that are using their products and services to fight modern slavery, including:

  • The Roosevelt Coffeehouse, a social enterprise that uses coffee to fight hunger, unsafe water and human trafficking
  • UNCHAINED,  a nonprofit that uses a fashion show to raise awareness about human trafficking and ignite abolitionists worldwide
  • The Black Lens novel, a dark literary thriller that exposes the underbelly of sex trafficking in rural America
  • Freedom a la Cart, a social enterprise and catering service that employs survivors who can heal, learn and grow as they prepare for full-time employment opportunities in the community
  • She Has A Name Cleaning Services, a cleaning company that seeks to address issues of human trafficking and domestic violence by offering employment, education, awareness and collaboration with community partners
  • Eleventh Candle Co., a social enterprise that sells candles to redeem, restore, empower and equip those vulnerable to human trafficking, abuse, exploitation and addiction

Learn more about She Has A Name and its events here. To read reviews of The Black Lens or order a copy, please go to Amazon.

Top California paper covers book signing and anti-trafficking event

 

IMG_3043 (1)A top California newspaper just published a detailed news story about sex trafficking and my most recent book signing event for The Black Lens novel.

The Mercury News covered “Hope in the Darkness,” a unique event organized by Saratoga Federated Church’s human trafficking task force. The event took place on Jan. 29 and drew more than 150 participants who heard from the following speakers:

  • Christopher Stollar, author of The Black Lens novel
  • Jill Ranes, a survivor of trafficking and founder of the Out of Egypt Network
  • Brian Wo, co-founder of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition

“This is a state, local and international problem,” said Saratogan Laurel Perusa, who is part of the human trafficking task force at Saratoga Federated Church. “I think it’s very important that Saratogans have their eyes opened to this brutal issue.”

The issue of human trafficking hit home for Saratogans in November 2015, according to The Mercury News. That’s when three San Jose residents were arrested for smuggling people from Spain to work in the South Bay, including at a restaurant and hair salon in Saratoga.

To help combat this issue, “Hope in the Darkness” also raised funds for The Nest, a safe house located in the South Bay and managed by Advent Group Ministries. The Nest serves female victims who have been rescued from commercial sexual exploitation.

“Human trafficking is a horrid issue, and it’s sad to say it is in every community in our country and around the world,” Perusa said. “It is vital to raise awareness.”

Learn more about the event here. You can also watch the full video on Vimeo, including a powerful song written by my brother, Garrett Stollar, an upcoming musician who was inspired by The Black Lens novel.