It’s easy to kid yourself into believing something is one way when it’s really another. Some of us never wake up to it, others get hammered with the reality of a situation and then find all kinds of ways to either deal with it or ignore it.
Lauren Trantham dealt with it...and then some.
“I was in what I thought was a happy marriage until one day my husband came home and told me he didn’t want to be married any more. I never saw it coming. The next day he left, and I haven’t seen him since. It was devastating.”
A visit to a therapist to help her deal with the abrupt end of her marriage uncovered an even more awful truth – she’d been in an abusive relationship and hadn’t recognized it. Diagnosed with PTSD, Lauren said she came away with the realization that there are people out there who you trust but who can manipulate you.
“He was my Prince Charming. The first couple of years, he said and did all of the right things. Then as I started having to deal with what happened, I realized he had been treating me like garbage. It wasn’t physical abuse, it was all emotional and mental.”
Lauren said she’d “dodged a bullet” and did the only thing she could think of to escape the pain. She got on her motorcycle and rode. By herself, days and miles at a time. Then back home again. But it didn’t help.
“I realized that I was just carrying all of this hurt around with me. I’d be out on my bike and just start crying in my helmet. I needed to find another way to deal with it.”
She knew she wanted to help other women. Maybe find a charity that was involved in women’s issues. She made a living as a photographer focusing solely on capturing images of women, so she knew how empowering photography could be. She wanted to find a cause where she could put that to use. Riding wasn’t initially part of the equation.
Lauren admits that her initial conception of sex trafficking was through the media – reports about its insidiousness in third world countries and movies like Taken. What she discovere instead was eye opening -- it's a problem right here in the U.S. and it's a bad one.
To give you some idea, there are a reported 1.5 million victims of sex trafficking in the United States today. Many found themselves in that situation because of someone they thought they could trust. The mostly women and children who are trafficked for sex are raped, beaten and tortured. Surviving is possible, but not a given. Surviving intact is questionable.
Lauren knew she couldn’t solve it on her own, but she wanted to do something about it and use her photography to make it happen. Riding a motorcycle became a means to the beginning of an end.
“When I finally connected with Rebecca (Bender), it took us maybe seven minutes on the phone to realize we had so much in common. I told her my ideas and we agreed to work together to make them happen.”
That call would lead Lauren to organize a 10,000-mile ride around the perimeter of the U.S. to raise money and awareness for the Rebecca's organization.
“I hadn’t really done fundraising campaigns before. I was thinking that I could raise maybe $10,000. But I met a guy who specializes in crowdfunding and he told me, ‘Lauren, this is important. I think you can raise $60,000.’ I almost threw up. It seemed so overwhelming. But I had friends help me get the website up, the video made, and Rebecca kept encouraging me.”
The first event was in Lauren’s home town of Ashland, Oregon, and by all counts it was a good turnout. But hardly anyone showed up at the second event, and no one showed up for the third. Not a great start…and the $60,000 goal probably seemed a lot further off. Changes were in order.
“I quickly learned that I could Google ‘sex trafficking’ and find a reporter who'd covered it in the city where I'd be at an event. So I’d reach out to them, tell them I was coming into their town or city, and let them know I was available. That helped get me on the news in a ton of cities, and it eventually led to national coverage.”
Lauren held events in over 30 locations, including the one Ashland, then others in Stillwater, MN, St Augustine, FL, Memphis, TN and Phoenix, AZ. She photographed over 36 sex trafficking survivors, and came just short of her $60,000 goal. The money is going to pay for survivors to go through a program conducted by the Rebecca Bender Initiative to teach them how to be professional speakers and start their own non-profit.
“Someone said I should be glad that I came close to raising the money I wanted to, but I’m a goal-oriented person and I said, ‘yeah, but I didn’t.’ I had moments during the ride of deeply questioning what I was doing, but I knew it would take a train to make me stop. Yes, there were times I felt fear and doubt and sheer exhaustion, but after hearing just one survivor story, you realize nothing compares to what they have lived through, so I just kept going.”
This is where the story might end, but there’s some context here that makes Lauren’s story even more compelling.
She didn’t start riding until she was 21, she’s 34 today. Growing up in Alaska, she could have gotten a license at 14, with her dad's encouragement. But dad wasn’t cool to a 14-year old Lauren, so neither was riding a motorcycle. Although, she now admits she would have been one of the cooler kids in school if she had gotten a license.
By the time she got a bike, it wasn’t just any old standard. She bought a used Ducati Monster 750 and would use garbage bags and bungee cords to hold her stuff during her initial road trips. Her riding gear was her old snowboard jacket and pants.
Her first long ride was from Key West up to New England and back with her dad. Followed by a few cross-country trips from Florida heading west and back. She’s also ridden in South America and in South Africa, but not on her Ducati.
After figuring out that initial Monster wasn’t big enough for the kind of riding she wanted to do, she soon replaced it with a bigger one – a 2007 S4RS – which is now her daily rider.
“I’m not that tall, but the Ducati fits me, and I just love the styling. My dad’s also a pretty aggressive rider. So I needed to keep up with him, and my Ducati lets me do that.”
Lauren also has a private pilot’s license, is a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and speaks three languages (English, Spanish and Portugese). When she was 17, she left high school to go to Guatemala, but returned with just enough time to make up the classes she needed to graduate on schedule.
After that, she spent time traveling throughout Central and South America and the Middle East. Her dad was a petroleum engineer who moved a lot, so that meant there was always a different place to stay. She’s also started a few companies on her own, including one that rebuilt mobile homes.
Yes, there’s a bit of a risk taker there, but talking to her you don’t get the impression that it’s about adrenalin as much as creating meaningful experiences. She’s now planning a five-event tour in 2018 with the goal of raising $75,000 for the Rebecca Bender Initiative and is working on a possible book about sex trafficking survivors.
“If I hadn’t gone through my own experience, I wouldn’t have been able to get involved with the Ride. It showed me what a survivor is. It gave me so much hope and inspiration. I’ve healed so much on the road and through this. It didn’t happen right away, but it happened.”
And Lauren is making sure it happens for women who have gone through so much worse.