It seems fitting that my very first blog post should be about how I got started as an advocate for survivors of human trafficking.
It was on a Friday or Saturday night in 2009 that I found myself home alone with the television remote. Ben, my fiancé, was out with a friend, and I was pouring wine and baking brownies to celebrate having the apartment to myself. I’d been working long hours at my full-time job in a microbiology lab, and I needed a night in.
I flopped on the couch and flipped through television channels. Maybe I watched a movie or a couple of sitcoms before coming across a documentary about human trafficking overseas. I can’t remember which station it was on (possibly HBO?), but it was about this woman who was a survivor of human trafficking (in India, I think). Let’s call her Nadia. Nadia now worked to rescue other young girls from the local brothels.
There was one girl in particular- a bronze-skinned baby, barely a pre-teen. She was being sold by her parents. Nadia dressed up like a ninja (yes, a ninja!)and stormed into the brothel. She pulled the girl out before the owners understood what was going on. It was…awesome.
But the little girl was unable to understand a life outside of prostitution. She couldn’t see any wrongdoing by her parents because it was all she had known. It was a family business, and she was following in her older sister’s footsteps. The little girl ultimately returned to the brothel.
Nadia wouldn’t give up, though. She planned future attempts to save the same girl and others like her. Nadia was my new hero. Not only did she spend her time and money on saving innocent girls from trafficking, but she was a survivor herself. I felt strangely connected to this woman living on the other side of the world from me because we shared a similar past. But I couldn’t be like her, I thought, human trafficking only happened overseas.
And then the show ended with a segment on trafficking in the United States or maybe it was followed by a different program which highlighted domestic human trafficking. I think it was the latter. Either way, I grabbed my laptop and started searching: human trafficking in the United States, sex trafficking, and child trafficking. After several searches, I found Children of the Night(COTN) in Los Angeles, CA, founded by Dr. Lois Lee.
This discovery was like meeting a twin sibling I never knew I had. At first, I was overjoyed, not only to learn that there was a program available for these girls, but that there was a name for what had happened to them, what had happened to me: Human Trafficking.
This piece of information was missing from my childhood.
And then I was angry. For nearly twenty years I carried around a dirty, little secret from my past, a secret which led me to believe that I was shameful, that I was damaged goods. Had I met this twin sister twenty years ago, I would have known that I was not unworthy.
I was a survivor.
I was a survivor of human trafficking. I wanted to tell someone! I wanted to step onto the balcony of my apartment and scream it out loud into the night. But I stayed silent. I stayed silent when Ben got home, and I stayed silent for days following until I called the hotline for Children of the Night.
Are there any programs for trafficked victims in Virginia, I asked. They didn’t think so, but they gave me the number for GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) in New York. And GEMS referred me to Polaris Project and Shared Hope, both in Washington D.C.
And through them I found Washington D.C.’s own personal ninja: Tina Frundt, survivor and founder of Courtney’s House.
Courtney’s House provides, among other programs, street outreach to boys, girls, and women. Tina and her volunteers scour the streets of D.C. at night looking for girls and boys who are trapped in a life in which they see no way out.
Tina took me in like a sister.
And I knew…
I would not be silent anymore.