Jingyue (Jean) Zhang (National Center on Sexual Exploitation)

Not long after I arrived in D.C., I couldn’t help but noticing a subtle but prevalent habit of Washingtonians, the habit of jaywalking. No matter how persistently the guy in the talking pedestrian traffic light voice system uttered, “Wait! Wait!”, locals rarely stopped for the red light but always rushed across the street as if they were in a hurry for something. “D.C. can’t wait.” I thought to myself. But what can’t they wait for?

With the same question in mind, I started my internship in the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an NGO that advocates sexual justice by exposing links between all forms of sexual exploitation and their harms as well as urging the respective entities to adopt new practices. Surprisingly, in this small organization with no more than 10 staff (including interns), I found the same “can’t wait” mentality as that of the local DC pedestrians. In the staff meeting every morning, fresh ideas on progressing current campaigns or starting another project start flowing after we share updates on sexual exploitation reports, adding new tasks to the already long to-do list. While our Executive Director is constantly on the run from one meeting to another, my immediate supervisor who is the VP of Education and Outreach is occupied with multiple tasks. As a result, being an intern requires me to adapt to this mentality as well: I would need to start on a new assignment upon request before barely finishing previous research while answering phone calls from business partners or concerned citizens on the side. On one hand, I find it fulfilling to be helping with a cause I cared about but on the other hand, I was also sometimes overwhelmed and kept wondering, “What are they in a hurry for?”

The answer never failed to escape me until one morning when a letter arrived from one of our campaign targets, promising to alter their Internet service in order to protect children from the harm of sexual exploitation in response to our petition. The moment we finished reading that letter, I saw the excitement for this little victory on everyone’s face. I for sure felt the same. Then I came to realize that, this was what everyone was in a hurry for—changes, changes that would make this world a better place. And I remembered several conversations I had. “Even though I am exhausted after work, when I see that my work can make a change to defend those who don’t have the agency to do so, I always feel powerful” from a colleague. “Your work is absolutely important to the change in this collaborative effort, even if it’s simply answering the phone like you just did” from a guest speaker and survivor of sex trafficking. Indeed, on the issue of sexual exploitation, an issue that nobody is even willing to talk about but is causing harm to millions of vulnerable people every minute if left unaddressed, a change is imperative. Yet here I am, being part of the change. How can I wait? How can I not be in a hurry?

Now when I walk out of my building, I still see people jaywalking, hurrying from place to place, all the time. But instead of wondering why they are in a rush, I start to see them as part of the alliance that can’t wait for changes of some sort that are important to them as justice to me. D.C. is a city where lots of changes happen and also where people who make the changes gather. Everyone shares the eagerness to push forward the agenda to better the change and the eagerness becomes the mentality of the city. Of course, D.C. can’t wait.

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