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Maya Lea Osterman performs one-woman show to increase sex trafficking awareness

The statistics are staggering — approximately 27 million people are in slavery today — yet many people don’t know that sex trafficking exists. 

Maya Lea Osterman seeks to inform audiences about the realities of sex trafficking with her one-woman show, “For Sale,” which she will perform tonight in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.

Osterman worked with Carolina Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), a student organization that advocates for a world without slavery, to bring her show to campus.

The show tells stories that are rooted in actual survivors' accounts that Osterman heard firsthand during her six years of research. During this time she spoke to survivors, FBI agents, law enforcement and nonprofit organizations from across the country.

Osterman said her interest in the issue began in high school when she performed for a theater company that was connected to Planned Parenthood and continued while at the University of Colorado Boulder where she was further exposed to theater for social change.

During the final semester of her Bachelor of Fine Arts program, Osterman and her 10 classmates were required to produce an original show. She said she pushed for it to be based on social justice, and the group decided on sex trafficking as their focus.

The group created a show called “Boom Boom Yum Yum,” and afterward, Osterman kept working on it and eventually created “For Sale.” 

“I honestly tried to push myself to do anything in the show that terrified me,” she said.

Osterman has performed the show at several universities across the country and said she geared the show to this audience because she believes it is the best platform for real action to happen. 

“It’s an intense issue, so no matter what it’s a play that affects you,” she said. “So the only way I would feel comfortable presenting this information in the way that I have it is to then be able to process with the audience what they’ve just experienced.”

She said her mission with the show is to propel some sort of forward movement with the issue, even if an audience member only does one thing after seeing the show.

“Hopefully it’s a domino effect and that one thing touched someone else to do one thing and maybe something can change.”

Osterman's post-show discussion about sex trafficking is similar to some of the facilitated dialogues done by Interactive Theatre Carolina , a group that Osterman has worked with since last summer, performing in their orientation shows – shows about mental health – and a fall show about sexual assault and alcohol. 

Sarah Donnell, a program assistant for Interactive Theatre Carolina, said Osterman is skilled at delivering a performance from within the mind of the character and the actor.

“She really knows how to portray these characters with sensitivity and truth,” Donnell said. “I trust her a lot as a performer and as a teacher.”

Sophomore Neha Kukreja,  co-chairwoman of CAST, said it took the group about a year to acquire the funding and the time to bring “For Sale” to campus. She said CAST received grants from the Campus Y Fund and the Resident Hall Association and that this is a new form of awareness for the club.

“From our understanding we have an awesome social justice performance group on campus, but there has never been a play specifically about human trafficking at UNC, so that’s why we think it’s so different and important,” Kukreja said.

She said that despite the other events they have hosted, a lot of people still don’t know human trafficking exists or what it is like.

“We really think watching a play is the closest to real life interaction with victims of the slave trade; it’s the best insight they can get into the phenomenon without actually visiting a brothel.” 

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