“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” James Madison

Education was my Rescue


Road to Freedom

Getting “in” and Getting “out”

I was attending college at the time that a trafficker recruited me my second night working at an adult club. I was a single mom to a medically needy baby, facing massive medical bills, my ultimate goal being to support myself and care for my child during the day. After targeting me and deliberately gaining information from me to learn my vulnerabilities, the trafficker held me in a warehouse for what they termed “breaking in the product”: a process of control, orders, being sold, rapes and beatings to near death. I was “the product”. As intended, it did break me as a human being, and served to make me compliant for quite a while. Even though at times I often had freedom of movement, my choices were controlled. I attempted to get out several times and faced repercussions. When I did extricate myself from my traffickers, a second pimp, and that life of exploitation in general, I lost everything and was on and off the streets.

It was very difficult to get out and stay out. Faced with the possibility of being homeless again and back in the clubs, I applied to a university basically because it had housing but also because I had started back taking college courses online (I was too afraid to leave the house to attend in person) and I knew that a degree was my only long-term option to truly be out and stay out. There were several obstacles to being re-admitted, due to my past in surviving exploitation, but I was very lucky to receive that acceptance letter!

You hear the word “rescue” being thrown around a lot with regard to human trafficking victims; however, very few that get out are actually “rescued” in what we understand to be the traditional meaning of the word. Even if they are identified and recovered or removed (through a sting or law enforcement investigation), they rarely see it at the time as a rescue, due to the traumatic bonding, fear, normalization, hopelessness, etc. that can occur throughout the time of exploitation. Even when one wants to exit, escapes, or is recovered, these effects are incredibly pervasive on a victim’s life and ability to reintegrate. A rescue implies a “happily ever after”, when in reality it is the beginning of figuring out an entirely different world from the one you just left. Consistent, safe, and reliable long-term support is a challenge…both in finding and in receiving.

Reintegrating and starting over

Getting back into college was one way I could separate myself further from that life and those who exploited and abused me, so education truly did rescue me. At my university, I was able to get all the needs met that are so essential to recovery. I had safe housing, education (which ultimately meant long-term financial self-sufficiency), medical, and counseling (both educational/career as well as mental health).

Most importantly: I met my victim advocate, who has been irreplaceable and without whom, I would never be where I’m at today, and I was connected to specially trained law enforcement who helped me understand the dynamics of exploitation and that I was actually a victim and not a stupid, shameful, worthless person who deserved what happened to her. It was the beginning of the understanding that that wasn’t the way my value as a person had to be defined. My first detective would become an instrumental person in my life and for my personal growth and healing.

It was still not an easy road from this beginning of a new life. I faced daily anxiety and panic in attending classes, and sleep issues. I was unable to handle cash or money decisions without panic attacks, if at all, and the financial stresses in the student loan process were overwhelming. I constantly felt I didn’t belong in the “normal world”, and frequently felt pressure and pull to return to the familiar even though I knew it was not safe or healthy. This really underlines something important: the effects of exploitation do not end when the victimization ends or when a victim gets out or when a case is closed. Being identified as a victim is really just the beginning of a long, if not lifelong, recovery process. It requires consistent and long-term support. For me, I knew education was my way out—a commitment, a tangible strategy to never going back, economic possibilities within my own control and no one else’s. As I continued my learning process (both toward my degree and through the investigation of the traffickers), I’ve gradually built up my support system and taken more steps towards healing. If someone had asked me while I was in the clubs, on the streets, or being sold… if I ever thought I would be in my last year of law school, I would have literally laughed in their face (or thrown a few choice words at them)! Sometimes I still can’t believe it myself J

Continual Process

In addition to violence, intimidation, and fear, the fraudulent use of the legal system was a factor in my case as it is in many others. Learning the law for what it actually is and not how it was manipulated was essential for me to truly understand the dynamics of how I was exploited and to continue recovery from that trauma. Learning the true legal system and the elements of exploitation in my case, reintegrating through the educational process—all of this helped me identify my traumatic symptoms and recognize triggers to begin working on in specialized trauma therapy. I continue this ongoing personal development since the PTSD that victims of exploitation experience has been described as complex, and similar to that of combat veterans. I had to learn coping skills, stumble through real-life (not “the life”) experiences, begin to understand and continue understanding what healthy relationships actually are, have setbacks and learn to grow from them, figuring out my identity as a human being and not a commodity. I will never get back the person I was before the exploitation, but I am learning how to be successful as a whole and healthy person now.

Education really is a bridge to authentic freedom, and it is absolutely essential for survivors to rebuild their lives. I am incredibly passionate about finding ways to support the education of survivors, not just because survivors need it… But because we need survivors! And we need them whole and moving forward! We need their expertise in all areas of professions. We benefit from investing in their ability to harness every aspect of their talents and capabilities—in whatever realm of life and career they may choose. We benefit from compensating them for their expertise, which is unlike any other, and not re-exploiting them. Additionally, by doing so, we demonstrate to survivors that they DO indeed belong in “THIS world” and not back in a life of being exploited. That the “absence of a life”…the absence of truly being free, the absence of truly living… in exploitation was never supposed to be the way we are of value. It demonstrates that our intellect, opinion, contribution, development, experiences, and partnership is essential and respected. We demonstrate to survivors that they never did deserve what happened to them and that they are meant for so much more.

Written by “Amy”

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