Historic Survivor Symposium 

So I just returned from a historic Survivor Symposium at Villa Nova’s CSE Institute. I got to spend some time with my sisters and learned from other survivors what true survivor leaders are, and what they are doing around the country. I sat in on some very interesting workshops such as Survivor Leadership in Human Trafficking taskforces, Housing, Resources and Support for Court Involved Individuals, and More than our Story, true Survivor Leadership.

We have come a long way in our community in terms of intervention efforts, the way victims are treated in our court systems, and in developing resources and support but we have a long way to go. Human trafficking and Commercial sexual exploitation is happening in our community as I type this, on the streets, and in hotels, in strip clubs, and massage parlors. Simply because you choose to look the other way does not mean it isn’t happening. At times it can feel like people in positions of power, from judges, to police, to other influential community members tell you that they hear what you’re saying, they believe the evidence is there but in turn behave like they don’t,  or quite frankly don’t give a hoot. They continue to treat these victims as criminals, inappropriately place them in programs that have proven to fail them again and again, and then blame the victim when they don’t succeed in the programs. At some point we need to take responsibility for making it impossible for them to succeed and quitting on them if they make a mistake. I won’t quit on any of you that I promise. You are worth my time and work, and I believe that you can do it with the right supports, placement, and compassionate care.

It took me so many attempts, years, endless disappointments for my family, multiple incarceration, and umpteen relapses before I could exit and find recovery. The shame that I had to unpack, the countless times I made mistakes, and continue to on this journey. Fortunately I have women in my life that understand it takes a lifetime of healing and therapy to recover from the aftermath of prostitution. Instead of criminalizing the victims we need to shift back to targeting the real perpetrators and offering the victims exit services. Every single arrest and incarceration becomes another barrier to exiting.

We need to really make some policy changes around the treatment of Commercially Sexually exploited persons. We need to provide support, safety, resources, kindness, and compassion for these victims. We do not need to give them handcuffs, arrests, blame, jail sentences, or condemnation. Instead of telling them what they are doing wrong look at what you are doing wrong in regards to their placement. I had a million fingers pointing at me telling me about my many missed opportunities and failures. I often wonder what a helping hand and the appropriate care would have done in my life…….