By Tamara Laine
There is power in truth, and when the truth finds light through the strength of voices rising up, anything is possible.
The journey from human trafficking victim, to survivor, to advocate is unique to each brave soul who is able to break the bonds of modern-day slavery.
Rachel, Tiffany, Yolanda and Adriana are all survivors of trafficking who are now speaking their truth to help others.
It’s advocacy work that begins with finally understanding their incredible worth.
Deserving to feel special, deserving to have a voice, and what it feels like when you actually feel that is “an incredible feeling,” explained Tiffany.
“I think it’s because a lot of the time you don’t feel right… but being able to take that to a whole other level and into advocacy and really explain certain things,” is something she values.
“I don’t fear talking about human trafficking, or my family’s experience and effects, because speaking is empowering,” said Ingrid Johnson, whose daughter was trafficked when she was 13.
“That, I think, is the power that you’ve learned… to be able to advocate for this issue,” added Rachel Lloyd, who is the founder of the survivor advocacy group GEMS.
When survivors do break free and expose the realities of their experience, it’s liberating.
“That was a magical thing, actually,” said Ansa, a survivor of a fraudulent marriage, describing the moment she got her voice back.
“I was nobody and now I have been brought to a huge, huge platform – the United Nations platform – to speak about my experience and to be a voice for all these other people,” she explained.
“I could not believe it but somehow I had that courage to speak my heart,” Ansa continued. “Here was something inside me who was really so strong, and wanted to speak in the moment.”
Sometimes, that kind of advocacy begins at home.
Tiffany explained her experience with her family by saying “I had to really sit down and explain to my family, ‘So this happened to me at a point in time in my life. I couldn’t come to you guys. What if I did do something wrong and felt like if I went to see you all, you guys would judge me? You probably deserve for that to happen.”
She went on to say that in disadvantaged neighborhoods, “boys get recruited to be drug dealers very young, and then they drop out of school, and girls get recruited into the commercial sex industry.”
But the road to recovery is a hard one. A road Ingrid knows well, as she described the challenges she faced trying to get her daughter to feel like a normal teenager again after she was rescued.
“Her journey was difficult,” Ingrid said. “Although she successfully completed high school in four years, it was a struggle. But I think the best thing and the best gift that I could have given my daughter was to bring out honesty,” Ingrid explained.
Honesty and the understanding that being a survivor means acknowledging past victimization, and then moving forward in the fight to put an end to slavery around the world.
“You struggle with your identity,” said Adriana. “With the balance between being a victim, and what a survivor looks like… acknowledging that you are right and understand that it wasn’t your fault… I’m not the one to blame for this.”
“Even if somebody else doesn’t understand,” added Yolanda.
“Okay, so this did happen to me,” said Tiffany. “I didn’t actively make this choice… for you to fully understand that and really believe it is a big step, a major step, because then it’s moving forward.”
“Ultimately, we need to be able to empower each other,” said Adriana. “I need you all to know that as women, we are dope in so many different ways.”
“That is my next fight,” said Ansa. “I want to be the support, the voice for others and tell them like there is nothing to be afraid of. You have to be strong.