In 2018, you decided to be more public with some of your story in terms of being a survivor. Can you share about a few of the platforms you shared on and what that process was like?
I made the decision in March to work with a content producer called Soul Pancake and a series they were making called “I Survived”. The goal was to talk about my experience as a survivor of human trafficking and the process of survivorship following that part of my life. After that video went public, I was contacted by my alma mater, The Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) about being featured in a story they were writing. I had actually received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees of social work at MSU Denver following my exploitation, so I had an existing relationship there. Part of my story is actually connected to my academic career, which made that story both challenging and rewarding.
Can you share more about that? What are some of the risks or fears in sharing about your survivorship? How did you process those personally and determine to move forward?
One difficult portion of this process was maintaining some confidentiality for my family and close community. My life is not “siloed”- meaning this experience has impacted those close to me, and I’m always thinking about them when I engage in telling my story. I was able to move forward by connecting with other folks who have told people about their survivorship. They gave me insight into the pitfalls, challenges, and outcomes of sharing in such a public way.
I was also concerned about the representation of my story, and how it could be sensationalized or poorly presented. Fear of retaliation, rejection, and criticism is always at the back of my mind. Ultimately, I was able to process with the support of colleagues and my survivor community. The reward came from sharing my story in a way that fits me and my current work. The process really brought me closer to who I am and the journey I’ve been on. It also gave me the opportunity to look back and celebrate all that has come to pass in my life.
So in the end, you were happy with how your story was shared? What kind of response did you receive from your network?
I believe sharing my story through these platforms has increased awareness of different types of exploitation. My experience highlighted both types of trafficking- sex and labor. I saw increased knowledge and connection through my network, and especially at MSU Denver. It’s a place that has supported me for several years, and provided a space for me to develop and be mentored as both a student and teacher.
I think my story breaks through some stereotypical ideas about who a trafficking survivor is or what our experience may look like. Survivors are everywhere- they may be sitting next to you in a classroom or walking by you in the grocery story. We are all sectors of humanity: this can happen to anyone.
Part of your work at LCHT is with our Leadership Development Program. You also work alongside survivor leaders. Did sharing your own story influence how you go about doing some of that work?
I truly wanted to model a way that was good for all of us, not just myself. I’m always thinking about the next individual with lived experiences. How can my own story, work, and connection to this issue benefit someone else? I hope to share the pros and cons, the joys and sorrows, the challenges and successes of sharing my story in a way that is authentic and real. I really believe I was able to bring back the experience of these engagements into my working alongside others.
I’ve been able to develop concrete knowledge and skills over the years to pass along to the next person who finds themselves in the same situation. Many survivors have not had the mentorship, guidance, and support that I was so lucky to have when I exited my exploitation. In fact, many survivors have been pushed to simply share the trauma points of their story, only to find themselves re-exploited by another system. So yes, I’m thinking more about how to continue to work alongside and support those kinds of survivors.
And what does some of that work look like next year in 2019?
In 2019, the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking will expand the inclusion of survivors in our Leadership Development Program. We will work to support individuals with these lived experiences who are interested in working more directly on this issue. I’m hoping to create a place where survivors can come and understand the full totality of this work. I want them to be able to gain skills and connections. And I want them to have the chance to work alongside the same team that has guided me since 2012 to become the social justice advocate I am today.
Mary’s story is compassionate and an important one for her to share. Her bravery is to be commended. But, in the long run, she will be able to help others as no one else could. You have to walk in someone’s shoes to know what such an experience would feel like. Super kudos to Mary for her courage!