The Importance of the Survivor Voice

The Importance of Survivor Voice

I am a member of the National Survivor Network, the Survivor Connect Network, and other survivor groups created for and by survivors of human trafficking.

As a member of these groups; I am in touch with survivors from around the world: new survivors, empowered survivors, educated survivors, struggling survivors, and scared survivors.  We unite under these umbrella organizations to offer each other support, guidance, and empathy and to work together on survivor-inspired projects.

There is a particular topic which has been surfacing lately on many of these forums and that is the lack of survivor invitations to participate in local and national conferences, symposiums, workshops, etc.  Often, survivors are requested to recount the details of their testimonies, and then they are excused from further participation.  This is baffling to me.  If there is to be a discussion regarding the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of survivors, shouldn’t there be a survivor’s perspective present?

Please realize I recognize that many organizations involved in such events are survivor-informed; however, I still believe that empowered survivors whom are able to attend the event should be invited to participate.  What better way to convey to new survivors that their futures hold promise but by providing a place and by lifting the voices of survivors who are ready to come forward?

For those who aren’t aware, Survivor Strong is a Speakers’ Bureau created by survivors, for survivors of human trafficking.  If you are in need of a survivor speaker, please consult the speakers listed on the site.  If you have an event coming up in which you would like to invite any local survivors to attend or participate, please post your event on the Survivor Strong Facebook page.

Survivor Strong is a public, professional, and informed organization of survivors.  Because we are committed to consulting with members of many survivor organizations, we represent ourselves and those still in the shadows.

Please show your support by posting your events on our Survivor Strong Facebook page now or email me to share the event with survivors on a private forum.

Thank you.

Why the Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal is a Relevant Topic under Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

Next month I’ll be speaking at a national symposium on human trafficking.

The organizers asked participants to come up with a list of topics to discuss that are related to the prevention of child trafficking in the United States.

So I pulled out my pen, and I drifted back to that first day in July of 1992. And then I mentally back-tracked my way through the years leading up to this day in which I was trafficked at the age of fourteen. Continue reading

Proactive Tips to Protect Your Children From Traffickers — Tip 7

I created a list of proactive tips to help parents protect their children from traffickers.  Traffickers are child predators, and this list is an attempt to expose the tools which they use to lure children away from their homes.  Tip #7 deals with gifts.

After picking me up from the mall, my trafficker bought me an expensive pair of sneakers.  This made a big impression on me.  In my middle school world, clothes (especially brand name clothes) were extremely important.  They made you Cool.  And being cool meant a lot in middle school, at least it did to me.

I remember the first time I held a pair of Calvin Klein jeans.  I was maybe thirteen and standing inside a Dillard’s store in the Ocean County Mall of Toms River, NJ.  I ran my fingers over the brown CK logo and thought about all the possibilities that might be available to me if I could own these jeans.

If I had these jeans, I thought I would be pretty and popular; I thought I would be Cool.  

had to have them.

And since my family couldn’t afford a pair of $60 jeans, I slipped them inside my bag and headed for the door. Continue reading

The President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF)

The annual meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITFwas held last week on March 15th, 2012.  The internet was buzzing with videos and statements from the meeting, but it got me wondering- what exactly is the PITF?

Remember my blog post, The Impact of Empowered Survivors, in which we learned about the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)?  Well, section 105 of the TVPA law instructs that the “President shall establish an Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking.”

What does Interagency mean?  It means the Task Force will be composed of officials from different departments.

OK, let’s start with the basics…

At the top of the government is The Constitution.

Under the Constitution are three branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.  Sound familiar?  Wait, don’t start snoozing!

The executive branch includes the President and the Cabinet.  The President is the Head of the Executive Branch.  And the Cabinet is composed of the Vice President and the Heads of all the Executive Departments.  What are the Executive Departments? Continue reading

Series Premier of ABC’s ‘Missing’ Featuring Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd’s series premiere of Missing, which aired this past Thursday night March 15th on ABC, was packed with action as Judd’s character, mother and ex-CIA agent Becca Winstone, travels to Italy to search for her missing son.  The most striking scene for me (SPOILER ALERT!) was when Becca entered a warehouse (with a sign claiming it to be an art dealership), found a rickety bed with handcuffs attached to the metal bed frame, and noticed a code scrawled on the wall- her son’s secret text code.  It was eerie and scary, and it packed a punch of reality.

In an interview with HitFix, Judd reveals the following:

“When the producers (for this show) approached me, they had an implicit acknowledgment that feminist social justice and international public health and global issues, particularly the eradication of sex and labor slavery, are a core part of my life and my service is my number one priority. They assured me that I could bring some of those storylines into the plotlines of “Missing” and we do that pretty quickly in Season One. We introduce a human trafficking theme and we’re real serious about expanding upon those ideas if there is a Season Two…” Continue reading

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)


Pictured above:  See Ima Matul (holding the Activism sign) with other empowered survivors from CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) ©CAST 2011

Ima:  My name is Ima Matul.  I was born in Indonesia, and I was trafficked into the United States for forced labor when I was 17 years old.

Holly:  My name is Holly Smith.  I was born in New Jersey, and I was trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation when I was 14 years old.

These were the beginning statements of my congressional testimony with CAST survivor advisory caucus member, Ima Matul, in September 2011.  The written testimony, entitled “The Importance of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2011 (TVPRA) to Survivors of Human Trafficking,” was submitted on record.

Since my posting on The Impact of Empowered Survivors, I’ve had a few emails asking about the TVPRA, so I thought I’d write up a short summary about it. Continue reading

Justine vs. Seventeen

The man who trafficked me convinced me to run away from home with stories about Hollywood.  He said he could help me become a model, an actress, or a songwriter, and that he could introduce me to famous people.

A critic commented on my story with the Associated Press, stating that a 14-year-old is old enough to understand that wasn’t a reality.

I beg to differ.

The world created by the media for young teens is saturated with stories about celebrities.  When I was 14, I believed that you had to have one of three things in order to be somebody, in order to matter: beauty, money, or fame.

The idea of being famous or becoming famous is pushed on almost all types of media.  From 16 and Pregnant to American Idol, teens are watching girls transform from being their peers to becoming household names.  And these are the names mentioned on MTV, on the radio, and in fashion magazines.

Since I’ve been on the topic of fashion magazines this week, I decided to post a comparison between the December/January issue of Justine magazine (a magazine for “teens, real teens, just teens”) and the February issue of Seventeen magazine (one of my old favorites). Continue reading


Grocery shopping with my parents on weekend afternoons was a boring and depressing chore in intermediate and middle school. The only grocery store in our town was ACME, which was small and overpriced, so we drove the twenty minutes out of town to the new Shop-Rite to stock up on hotdogs, baked beans, and fish sticks.

I tagged along, not only to pick out my own cereal, Pop-Tarts, and potato chips, but to peruse the fashion magazines while we stood in line to check out:

Tiger Beat
Teen Beat
Bop, and Elle
YM magazine
Vogue, and

I flipped through the pages and pictures, the articles and quizzes, taking my time to pick the magazine with the most relevant topics to make me Cool and Popular…to make me Hot!

Once we were home and (most) of the food was unpacked, I sprawled across my bed to study every page. I dog-eared any article, advertisement, or beauty tip promising to make me over. I scooped mayonnaise from the jar and onto my head in order to tame my frizzy hair, and I poured peroxide and baking soda over my toothbrush to whiten my teeth. I ordered painful hair removal products, which were a waste of money. I tried bronzing lotions which turned my skin orange, and I stole pockets full of products from Rite-Aid, including foundation, nail polish, and facial cleansing oils.

But it wasn’t enough- nothing made me look like the models in the magazines. Continue reading

The Impact of Empowered Survivors

In an interview with John Walsh on America’s Most Wanted, Secretary Janet Napolitano of Homeland Security explained that the global sex trafficking industry is a billion dollar business.

“Women and children (are) sold into circumstances you can’t even imagine,” she said, “just like utter degradation.”

Secretary Janet Napolitano goes on to say that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “last year…probably instituted about 770 human trafficking investigations, some of those were in the United States, some of them were in foreign lands- all involved some nexus to the U.S.”

After John pointed out to the Secretary that the United States is the number one country in the world for sex trafficking, he asked, “People don’t seem to be able to grasp that, why?”

The Secretery’s answer: “Maybe because the victims are hidden in plain sight…they’re hidden in homes and hotel rooms, and the like; people don’t see them. If you don’t see them, it’s hard to recognize that they’re here and brought here either as a victim of sex trafficking or being put into virtual slavery.”

Many survivors and organizations are at the forefront of the anti-human trafficking movement, including the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). CAST is an anti-trafficking organization based in Los Angeles, CA which provides “comprehensive long-term services through a three-pronged empowerment approach which includes Social Services, Legal Services, and Outreach and Training.” CAST is also a pioneer in the area of survivor leadership. Continue reading