On December 31, President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation, naming January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, 2015. As a survivor leader and advocate, I am both grateful for and proud of the work the United States of America is doing to eradicate human trafficking and to help victims recover from the trauma suffered in captivity and rebuild their lives.
Freedom is precious and worth fighting for. No one has the right to violate another’s basic human rights, but traffickers do that as part of their business plan. Human trafficking takes many forms: children are forced to be soldiers, people are forced to work eighteen to twenty hour shifts in horrific conditions, others are forced into prostitution and porn. The extent of this crime and the suffering it causes seems to be boundless, it is rampant, global in scale, and it is happening locally, in urban centers and suburbs alike, major cities and small towns.
But we’re making progress, and the situation is rapidly changing for the better, thanks to empowered survivors who have stepped up to share their stories and inform citizens and social services providers about how to identify possible victims, and the needs of victims and survivors. Now, thanks to an ever-increasingly trauma-informed law enforcement, healthcare professionals and behavioral health professionals, the tide is turning.
I am grateful to be a part of the anti-trafficking movement. Since 2009, I’ve been involved in raising awareness about human trafficking, by speaking and telling my story to help others. Since 2013, I’ve been a member of the anti-trafficking task force IPATH, Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans. In April 2014, I participated with California Against Slavery and eight other survivor leaders, speaking to California State Legislators in support of SB-1165, a bill aimed at combatting child sex trafficking through recommended trauma-informed education in California middle schools and high schools. Governor Jerry Brown has signed the bill into law.
I am looking forward to the honor of being guest speaker at the internationally renowned Museum of Tolerance on Sunday, January 25th at noon PST. This is my third time speaking as a survivor at the MOT.
Speaking is one of my areas of expertise, and I know that by connecting with audiences and letting them know that I survived, healed, and triumphed over the trauma, and through that process, discovered the power and light within myself. I am strong, happy, and courageous, not in spite of the things I have overcome, but because of them.
When I was trafficked to Tokyo and held under the control of organized crime figures, I feared for my life every day. I was lucky enough to escape, but the trauma held me in its thrall for many years. In those days, the term “human trafficking was not yet a part of the popular lexicon, and I struggled to comprehend what had happened to me. Shame and fear stalked my consciousness, I suffered from PTSD, and in an attempt to manage the trauma, began using hard drugs on a regular basis, and slipped into addiction and homelessness. I lost more than nine years of my life to the trauma, but eventually turned my life around.
Today I know that shame and fear are the traffickers’ weapons. They are banking on shame and fear to hold victims prisoner, to enforce the stigma, and to silence victims so they will not report the crimes or identify the perpetrators. For years I was silent, but I came to the realization that my voice matters. And your voice matters. I encourage you to join me in celebrating, protecting, and promoting freedom and basic human rights for all people, everywhere.