This month we’re proud to welcome Ashley Hunt to the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking as our newest staff member! Ashley is joining The Lab as a Leadership and Engagement Manager and will support our Leadership Development Program as well as the development of anti-trafficking partnerships around Colorado. We asked Ashley to share a little bit more about her background and how she ended up with LCHT.
Welcome to The Lab! We’re excited to have you as our new Leadership and Engagement Manager. Tell us what drew you to this position and anti-trafficking work in general?
Thank you! I am so excited to be part of this team and humbled to be doing this work alongside you all! I was drawn to this position because the role is excellently aligned to my skill sets, experience, and passions. Curriculum development and facilitation, program management, building and sustaining partnerships, mentoring emerging leaders and change makers – what a serendipitous coalescing! It was also immediately clear to me that my values and the ways I move through the world and understand this work aligned with LCHT values. LCHT intentionally applys a social justice framework to addressing the root causes of human trafficking, honors lived experiences of survivors and folx in the movement, and grounds their strategies in participatory action research. All of these aspects drew me to the position and LCHT in general.
Trauma-informed care and centering survivors’ experiences are absolutely critical in doing this work. We have to keep these things at the forefront in order to do this work with integrity and intention.
I have a passion and commitment to social justice and the anti-violence movement. My history in sexual assault victim advocacy and the violence prevention field has connected me to anti-trafficking for years as a parallel issue. So while there is a familiarity in navigating the scope and complexity of similar work, human trafficking will be a new and challenging area for me to focus on. This movement runs alongside other human rights and social justice movements I’ve been a part of and is work I have immense passion for. I cannot wait to learn the landscape of the anti-trafficking movement in Colorado and partner with the folx that have been working to end sex and labor trafficking state wide.
You’ve had a lot of professional experience as a victim advocate and prevention educator, both within community-based sexual assault programs and higher education settings. How do you think that your background will support your work at LCHT?
My background as a victim advocate and prevention educator helps me bring a trauma-informed lens and strong commitment to centering the experiences of survivors in the work. I also work from an anti-oppression framework with special attention to the disproportionate impact of violence on folx with marginalized identities. I hope my experience with crisis intervention and doing hotline advocacy will support LCHT’s work operating Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline. I also have a history of building partnerships with healthcare practitioners, law enforcement, service providers, and campus communities. I’ve built coalitions with these folx to do the work – very similar to how the anti-trafficking movement conceptualizes their partnerships.
In terms of my background in prevention education, I bring curriculum development and facilitation skills and the ability to navigate difficult conversations and content, often in a space where there are different values and experiences that are bringing people to the work. There are myriad skill sets I bring from my time as an advocate and violence prevention educator that will support my work at LCHT and I am so grateful for the opportunity to apply and refine these skills with you all.
When we met, you also spoke a lot about survivor advocacy and trauma-informed care. What makes those such important ingredients in community-based work?
Trauma-informed care and centering survivors’ experiences are absolutely critical in doing this work. We have to keep these things at the forefront in order to do this work with integrity and intention. LCHT is grounded in the lived experiences of the folx most impacted by human trafficking – the survivors and their support systems. You all honor and create spaces for survivors to lead and inform this work, if they choose to do so. As we create and maintain these spaces, we have to continue to increase our capacity to ensure they are trauma-informed to decrease the likelihood of re-traumatization.
If our programs, language, and vision for ending human trafficking are not inclusive of survivor experiences or are not attentive to how trauma can impact survivors in myriad ways, then they won’t create lasting change. Similarly, all of us as staff and the folx that come to our Leadership Development Program and our Hotline volunteers bring in their own diverse experiences of harm or oppression or trauma. We must hold these experiences with trauma and oppression sacred, and build space for folx doing this work to feel held and supported and sustained.
A big part of your focus at LCHT will be on our Leadership Development Program. Why do you think investing in future human rights leaders matters and what are you most excited to support in this area in the months ahead?
Investing in future human rights leaders matters because investing in a community of people who are passionate about this issue is a big way we sustain the movement. In our field, we talk a lot about self care and burnout and compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma – and what I love about the Leadership Development Program is that we are not just building the knowledge and skills of an individual who wants to affect change, we are creating a community of care, where we can sustain one another.
Also, there is a certain re-energizing and renewal when I work with passionate folx that want to spend their time and energy investing in and growing in the work. One of my most cherished experiences was serving as an advisor for the feminist activist student organization PAVE – Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment, and seeing those students grow into and claim their power in the anti-violence movement.
Mentorship has a powerful ripple effect. These emerging leaders will leave their time with LCHT and go out into the world to do great things. Whether or not they continue to work directly within anti-trafficking, they will take their trauma-informed lens, attention to root causes of human rights violations, and confidence in their ability to affect change. And then they can apply all of that to spaces and places we would not have otherwise been able to reach.
I am most excited to support resiliency building, because this work can be incredibly challenging. It can fatigue us and re-traumatize us and wear us down – and for folx that want to do work in human rights and social justice fields, developing strategies and skills around resiliency is key. That includes setting boundaries and building a community of care that will help you contribute to positive social change for the long term.
You’ve worked on a variety of social change issues- and now you’re about to step into anti-trafficking. What keeps you motivated in this kind of work?
I’ve always had fierce internal ambition and motivation and drive – aka my fire and passion. It has propelled me forward in this kind of work. But I’ve also experienced burnout, and it was often because I over-committed and leaned solely on that fierce ambition. I have realized that what really sustains and motivates me are the small victories. Watching folx I mentor achieve progress. Finding moments to connect with colleagues around our human-ness or cats or Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Really, my fire and passion and ambition (and wildly inappropriate amounts of coffee) are still essential, but some of those other ingredients are what really keep me sustained in this profession.
Finally… you are also new to Colorado! What’s one thing you’re hoping to do this year in your new home state?
Just one thing?! Is hiking in the mountains too cliche? (Humor me, I’m from the cornfields of the Midwest). So, absolutely hiking, but also exploring the city and uncovering new favorite book shops, coffee shops, thrift stores, and brunch places to become a regular at and really just settle in and plant my roots in Denver.