Shared Hope raises awareness about human trafficking

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJLA) – It’s a scary reality that lurks in the shadows, but now an eye-catching campaign in downtown D.C. is exposing the facts about human trafficking.

At the corner of 14th and K Streets northwest, dozens of people are doing a double-take.

They’re focusing on what looks like a life-size doll in a pink “for sale” box.

"It shocks you a little bit,” exclaimed 24 year-old Elias Dammann. “It does."

“We didn't know if a real person was inside until we got close and saw she was blinking," added Mary Liu of Arlington.

The young lady posing as a doll put the Esposito family's sight-seeing on pause Friday.

They zeroed in on a message on the box that read "children aren't playthings."

“I have a 12 year old daughter and we're always keep telling her to watch what she does and where she goes and who she talks to and you know it's a dangerous world out there and you got to be aware,” said Gary Esposito of New Jersey.

Shared Hope International is stepping up the awareness that kids are being sold for sex with several head-turning campaigns.

“It is serious,” said the organization’s founder Linda Smith. “Your children are in danger."

The former U.S. congresswoman is hosting a three-day conference for hundreds of law-enforcement, educators and survivors from across the nation.

Each state got graded on how well it protects our children from traffickers. Maryland climbed from a "D" to a "C,” but the rest of area is nearly failing.

“Washington, D.C. and Virginia are still D’s,” informed Smith. She says the problem is weak trafficking laws.

“They haven't defined that a child sold into commercial sex is a victim of trafficking and a man [who] would buy her is obtaining a trafficking child and therefore involved," she explained.

Human trafficking in America is a $9.8 Billion dollar industry. The average victim is just 13 years old.

“You can put yourself in their place and it makes you want to do something,” said tourist and University of Tampa student Lara Mellajansem.

“I know it's a big issue in Asia, but to see it right in the U.S., it hits home," added Liu.

Another campaign is also hitting home with metro riders. It shows a map representing the path prostituted children take every day, but they don't know where they'll end up.