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Purse for a Purpose event aims to help sex trafficking survivors

The Purses for a Purpose event on Friday seeks to raise awareness of sex trafficking in North Dakota. Special to The Forum1 / 3
Donated purses, some of which are seen here, will be filled with personal items like feminine hygiene products, hair spray and lotion. Special to The Forum2 / 3
Sex trafficking survivor Danielle John, seen here in 2015, will discuss her experiences Friday night at Purses for a Purpose. Forum file photo3 / 3

FARGO—For some women, a purse is a way to show off their personality. For others, it's a necessity, holding everything they'll need for the day. And for some, it could be the ticket to a new life.

Purses for a Purpose seeks to outfit women and girls escaping sex trafficking with handbags packed with essentials to take the first step in a new life.

A fund and awareness raiser Friday night at Atonement Lutheran Church will serve as a collection site for new and like-new purses and personal items will be added.

The bags will be given to first responders and treatment centers working with sex trafficking survivors.

"We help survivors get back on their feet," says event organizer Lisa Hanson, founder of the hosting group Next Step N.D.

She says the purses aren't a survival kit, but help women moving on from the past by giving them a new direction.

"It's kind of the first step for them to even contact us when they're trying to get back on their feet," says Hanson, who works family ministry at Atonement.

At a later date, the bags will be packed with items like $5 gift cards to Walmart or Casey's, feminine hygiene products, small hair brushes, travel size hair spray, travel size lotion, chapstick, gum or mints and a wood cross with notes of encouragement from Scripture.

After hearing a speaker talk about trafficking Hanson got involved in helping women out, starting Voice for the Captive and later Next Step N.D. She's been trying to raise awareness about the issue and her organizations since.

Sex trafficking survivor Danielle John will speak about her experiences at Friday's event.

"We have to raise awareness because a lot of people contact me and they really don't believe it's here in Fargo. It's just seen as a global issue," Hanson says.

In 2016, one online classified advertising website had 72,000 posts offering sex with women and children in North Dakota.

Once victims are removed from a bad situation, they need physical and social help finding themselves again.

"A lot of girls don't even know we exist. It's a way for them to know we're here for you," she says. "We're also here for community and relationship support. A lot of these girls, the friends and family, they really don't have any more. They're looking for that as well and to get re-established back in the community."

Hanson says she started planning for Friday's event in October and already received 300 donated purses, three times the amount of her initial goal.

Those who attend the event can still bring purses or items to donate as well as financial contributions. The event also includes a silent auction and light refreshments.

If You Go

What: Purses for a Purpose

When: 7 - 8:30 p.m., Friday

Where: Atonement Church, 4601 University Dr., S., Fargo

Info: This event is free and open to the public.