Agent of Change

Why former U.S. Congresswoman Linda Smith is compelled to combat sexual slavery—one young woman's life at a time

Linda Smith motions to the radiant young faces captured on the framed photos that line her office hallways.

"That's a picture of Renu; she's working in one of our safe houses … here's Mannisha, who was a brothel baby, holding her first doll … ," she tells me. Linda knows all the names of the women in the photos; she knows the intimate details of their stories, too—tales of abandonment, torture, rape, despair, and then unexpected hope and healing in Christ.

These pictures hang on the walls of Shared Hope International (SHI), the Vancouver, Washington-based nonprofit organization Linda founded in November 1998 to rescue and aid women who have been trafficked as sex slaves. The passion Linda has for SHI is obvious. But it's still a bit surprising to hear the 53-year-old former U.S. Congresswoman from Washington State express joy about the event that helped her launch SHI: losing an election.

"When I ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998, I didn't win—which was God's great plan!" Linda proclaims. In fact, Linda says everything in her life up to this point has been readying her for her role as executive director of Shared Hope International.

Linda launched her political career in 1983 when she defeated an incumbent to become a member of the Washington State Legislature. A doggedly determined prolife, anti-euthanasia, and campaign-finance-reform advocate who subsequently won several state elections, Linda, her husband, Vern, and her two children often were the target of smear tactics because of her conservative Christian views. Then a remarkable write-in campaign in her home district catapulted Linda into Congress in 1994. Never one to shy from tackling a human-rights issue, Linda was a rare female prolife voice in Congress, fighting girl infanticide and defending females sold and marketed as commodities to human brokers around the world. Today Linda has become the nation's leading nongovernmental activist in the issue of sex trafficking.

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