This story has content that may be triggering to anyone who has suffered abuse or violence. Ultimately, it is a story of surviving and thriving and because of it thousands of lives have been saved.
Lauri Burns is Executive Director at Teen Project, an organization that saves at-risk, homeless and sex trafficked young women in Los Angeles. By Christmas, she plans to have opened Vera’s Sanctuary (pictured above) providing homes for up to 30 girls saved from trafficking.
Because of Burns, across Los Angeles, there exist save-havens where for many, hope begins.
Sex trafficking is an horrific reality that hides in plain sight across the city.
Set up to fight the problem, the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force has rescued 185 victims, since being established in 2015.
Earlier this year when speaking with the Juvenile Justice Commission Burns said, “they told me they don’t have one home for a sex trafficked kid in Orange County… and currently, we’re holding all the juveniles in Juvenile Hall.”
This triggered Lauri.
“I’m like, OK, so these poor kids have been taken up by pimps, forced to have sex with these strange people, on drugs, and now you’ve got them in Juvenile Hall?” she said.
The 2016 Report on the Status of Women in Los Angeles County, commissioned by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women and prepared by Mount Saint Mary’s University found that “In Los Angeles, the average age of the first encounter with trafficking is 12–14 years and 11–13 years of age for girls and boys respectively.”
On Dec 4, this year Burns took the next steps on her mission to save young women when she won a bid and closed escrow on five houses previously owned by Boys Town, a sanctuary for troubled kids, that had been part of a parcel acquired by a developer.
The homes will provide 30 trafficking survivors, aged 15 to 21, with a home from where they can rebuild their lives. The revived enclave will be called Vera’s Sanctuary and Lauri is set to open doors by Christmas.
Lauri has a past similar to many of the young woman she saves.
One night Burns almost died when gang members, on a mission to rape and kill, kidnapped her.
Living on the streets for several years and working as a prostitute, one night Burns almost died when gang members, on a mission to rape and kill, kidnapped her. They had “a call to action to find a prostitute, rape her all night and kill her.”
Lauri says she cannot watch the film Monster, “It’s so close to my life I watched it once and couldn’t speak for three weeks.” Alone in a car in the woods with the two gang members, Lauri was ready to die. Drug addicted, suicidal, and now suffering horrific abuse Lauri said, “I screamed that they would kill me, at the top of my lungs, thinking that they would just end the job.” Instead, someone heard.
“I call him my Guardian Angel,” she said of the man out in the woods who came to her rescue and hurried her to a hospital. From here, Lauri began to address the issues born of growing up with physical and sexual abuse and being committed as criminally insane at thirteen by a father attempting to cover his own crimes.
She found healing through helping.
Trekking the path of recovery, Lauri continued to struggle through attempted suicides. Eventually, she found healing through helping.
Out of hospital, Lauri started a woman’s group to help support those similar to herself. Becoming sober allowed her to get back the daughter she had and lost while on the streets. And, over the past 30 years, she has built up an organization that had saved thousands of girls and young women similar to herself.
“What you’ve been through and what it’s given you is gold.”
“I had to walk this path to get to where I am now, and I wouldn’t change my spot with anyone,” she said. While living in a state of gratitude today, Lauri said getting to this mindset is not a logical thing, “you actually have to start helping people.” When you “step back from yourself” and your own suffering and helping others, Lauri says, “no matter how small” to start, “you see the bigger picture, that you’re now equipped with tools…What you’ve been through, and what it’s given you, is gold.”
Hear Lauri Burns’ incredible story of healing, hope, and transitioning from barely surviving, to thriving on the Beautiful Hollywood podcast.
Support the Teen Project and find out more about Vera’s Sanctuary online at TheTeenProject.com
Lauri Burns’ book is called Punished for Purpose.