Sex Trafficking: My Life My Choice offers a mentorship model for victims

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

My Life My Choice

BOSTON, April 5, 2014 — In my recently-released book, Walking PreyI explain that exposure to healthy and empowered survivors is vital in aftercare programs, especially for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking. In the chapter on Intermediate and Long-term Aftercare, I point out that, “One way to do this is via a Survivor Mentor model like the one created by My Life My Choice (MLMC).”

MLMC of the Justice Resource Institute, located in Boston, Massachusetts, pairs survivor mentors with exploited girls to encourage their use of existing services — including those outside of MLMC’s scope — to support their exit from the commercial sex industry, or to break their bonds with their traffickers. Exploited girls are identified through a variety of sources, including law enforcement, child protective services, medical providers, and clergy.

MLMC’s Survivor Mentor program seeks to stabilize a girl’s situation shortly after identification, thereby decreasing the likelihood that she will run away during this time. It then provides support, motivation, and hope to the young woman consistently over time.

Each mentor spends a minimum of one to two hours per week face-to-face with each girl. When appropriate, MLMC survivor mentors take their mentees into parts of the community where they have been denied access during their period of exploitation: movies, restaurants, cultural resources, etc. These outings help the girls bond with their mentors as they get to experience ordinary adolescent activities, thereby building their confidence and social skills.

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Survivors of Slavery: New book offers global narratives on modern-day slavery

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News


NEW ORLEANS, LA, March 24, 2014 – Last week, my book, Walking Prey, was released by Palgrave Macmillan and is available via AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound.  Walking Prey is an academic nonfiction book about child sex trafficking in the United States.  This week, another promising book will be released: Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy, Ph. D.  In Survivors of Slavery, Murphy offers survivor narratives from Cambodia, Ghana, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mexico, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, and the United States, all “detailing the horrors of a system that forces people to work without pay and against their will, under the threat of violence, with little or no means of escape” (description from Amazon). As a way of introducing this book, I’d like to include here a portion of the foreword written by Minh Dang of Berkeley, California:

An Open Letter to the Antitrafficking Movement, March 2013

Dear respected members of the anti-human-trafficking movement,

As a U.S. citizen and survivor of child abuse, incest, and domestic sex trafficking in the United States, I write to you to communicate my deepest wishes for how we approach our antitrafficking work. Over the past three years, I have publicly shared my story of slavery and freedom in venues large and small across the United States. I have met college students, teenagers, mothers, fathers, clergy, professors, service providers, and many others working to fight modern-day slavery. Through my presentations and conversations, I have developed a working set of guiding principles for the antitrafficking movement. I urge all of us to take heed of these principles because our adherence to or refutation of them will deeply affect the work that we do and the impact we have.

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Wellspring Living serves victims of sex trafficking in Georgia

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

ATLANTA, GA, March 15, 2014 – Wellspring Living is an organization that offers services to victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Their mission is “to confront the issue of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation through awareness, training, and treatment programs for women and girls.” In the following interview, Founder and CEO Mary Frances Bowley takes us inside the walls of Wellspring Living in order to educate the public about their services.

Holly Smith: Mary, where are your headquarters, and where are your efforts based?

Mary Frances Bowley: Our vision is to serve locally and influence globally. Locally, we are committed to the rescue, restoration, and renewal of survivors. Globally, we hope to come alongside other organizations and give them a replicable model so they can do the same in their communities.

Holly Smith: Can you tell us about the restoration programs available at Wellspring Living?

Mary Frances Bowley: Wellspring Living offers three types of comprehensive healing programs: Wellspring for Girls, Wellspring for Women, and the Transitions Program. All of our programs focus on the holistic restoration of sexual abuse and trafficking victims.

Wellspring for Girls is offered to girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who have been sexually exploited. Girls are offered counseling, group therapy, education, life skills, vocational training, family reunification, and spiritual care. The program aims to help exploitation survivors heal and move toward a positive and healthy lifestyle. The program collaborates with a licensed children’s home, a non-traditional school, and community partners.

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Interviewing victims of human trafficking: Survivors offer advice

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

RICHMOND, VA, March 1, 2014 – Recently, I discussed with law enforcement interviewing techniques when working with potential victims of human trafficking. As a survivor of child sex trafficking, I wrote an academic nonfiction book on the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in the United States, titled Walking Prey.  Although I do share my personal story in Walking Prey, this book is much more than a memoir. I discuss predisposing factors and community risk factors for CSEC, as well as the potential mindset of a “willing victim”.

A child victim who does not self-identify as such is often referred to as a “willing victim,” as was I at age fourteen in 1992. In Walking Prey, I discuss “willing victims” in order to offer victim-centered insight to law enforcement and other first responders and victim advocates. My hope is that such insight will help professionals interview and care for such victims. When offering tips to law enforcement, I often pull from my resources in Walking Prey. However, I believe that additional insight from other survivors of human trafficking is needed in order to offer comprehensive advice on interviewing techniques.  Following are quotes from a few survivors of sex and labor trafficking within America.

Trust, trust, trust…Building the rapport, trust, and relationship with victims takes time and patience…it is essential for [human trafficking] cases…[this is] one big reason why these cases are different from any other and [why] specialized training is needed. [Plan for m]ultiple contacts, multiple interviews. [Have p]atience! Never expect the victim to give you all, or even hardly any, intel the first interview. The first few meetings are you gaining their trust and building rapport. You will most likely get tiny bits of info, which will grow little by little, and over time pieces will come together.  – Anonymous Survivor and Consultant for the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators (IAHTI)

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Mental health workers must collaborate with trauma survivors

Written by Zoe Kessler and edited by Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

BOSTON, February 22, 2014 – My name is Zoe Kessler, and I am both a clinical social worker and a survivor of commercial sex exploitation as a minor. As a clinician and an advocate against all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), I have witnessed a gross misunderstanding for CSEC on the side of mental health professionals.

First of all, in order to provide effective mental health services to victims, mental health professionals must place value on “insider survivor knowledge.” Put simply, “insider survivor knowledge” is an understanding that can only be attained through personal experience. Without collaboration between survivors and service providers, the understanding for any victimization will be limited. This is because survivors can offer victim-centered insight into the potential effects from trauma, potential signs and symptoms of victimization, and those aftercare treatments that may be most appropriate and effective.

One common misunderstanding, not just among health professionals but among the general public, is that victims of CSEC have a “true choice” in whether or not they are commercially sexually exploited. This belief can affect the ways in which mental health professionals view survivors of CSEC, just as it once did for the way in which professionals viewed survivors of domestic violence. For example, if a girl (or boy) runs away and is “turned out” by a pimp or continues to live at home while simultaneously under the control of a pimp, this child is a victim of exploitation and manipulation.  Without “insider survivor knowledge,” professionals may place blame on those girls and boys. They might ask these victims: Why didn’t you ask for help?

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Survivors Offer Insight to Federal Anti-trafficking Efforts

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

WASHINGTON, February 15, 2014 – Last month, the White House administration announced a five-year “Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the Unites States…, a collaborative effort involving more than 15 agencies across the Federal Government.”

As stated in last week’s article, the Plan outlines intentions for each agency to integrate the experiences and voices of survivors into their initiatives. One anonymous survivor responded to this ambition as follows: “For a successful collaboration there must be an intentional disbursement of power between the government agencies that have traditionally held all the power of decision-making and the survivor groups that have held none.”

In response to the Plan, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families created a technical working group with the goal to enhance the health care system’s response to human trafficking. Among those invited to attend the first session were medical and health professionals, service providers, advocates, researchers, and survivors of human trafficking.

In this article, I’d like to include some perspectives from survivors who were unable to attend the meeting. Following are the questions I posed to survivors along with their answers:

What are the needs of human trafficking victims (both short and long-term) as it relates to healthcare providers?

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The Federal Government steps up anti-trafficking efforts

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

WASHINGTON, February 3, 2014 ─ In September 2012, President Barack Obama spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative and openly declared a U.S. initiative to address human trafficking.

In his speech, Obama called for a national action plan to better identify victims of human trafficking and address their aftercare needs. Last month, the White House administration announced a five-year “Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the Unites States, a collaborative effort involving more than 15 agencies across the Federal Government.” Co-chairs of the Plan include Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security.

In an introductory statement, the co-chairs acknowledged nationwide efforts to combat human trafficking and proposed that the Plan would strengthen “coordination, collaboration, and capacity across governmental and nongovernmental entities dedicated to providing support to the victims of human trafficking.” Further, the President’s Interagency Task Force (PITF) to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons recognized “that services must be provided in a manner that respects survivors and endeavors to integrate their experience and their voice.”

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The HEAAT Foundation fights human trafficking in South Jersey

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities


ATLANTIC CITY, NJ, September 9, 2013 — The HEAAT Foundation is committed to the support and advocacy of victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and domestic servitude. HEAAT, which stands for Helping to Educate and Advocate Against Trafficking, is based in Atlantic County, New Jersey and serves all of southern New Jersey.

President and CEO Tina Minnis earned her Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling from the College of New Jersey. After more than 35 years of state service, Ms. Minnis retired from the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services; at which time, she was the manager of the Atlantic East Local Office in Atlantic City. Ms. Minnis is an active member of the Anti-Trafficking Task Force of Atlantic County (ATTAC) and the New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force. In the following interview, Ms. Minnis shares the story and mission of HEAAT.

Holly Smith: Ms. Minnis, what inspired the creation of HEAAT?

Tina Minnis: This private non-profit organization is an extension of the Anti-Trafficking Task Force of Atlantic County (ATTAC), which has been in existence since 2005. ATTAC was spearheaded and mobilized by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which identified Atlantic City as a high-risk location for the presence of both sex and labor trafficking in the State of New Jersey.

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Interview with Elena Bondar, CEO of Two Wings

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

Two Wings


LOS ANGELES, August 31, 2013  —  Two Wings is a nonprofit organization located in downtown Los Angeles that aims to serve the greater Southern California region.  Their mission is to use education, mentoring, and life coaching to empower at-risk youth and young women survivors of sex trafficking transitioning out of shelter services. In the following interview; CEO Elena Bondar shares more information about Two Wings. Elena Bondar, MBA, founded Two Wings in late 2011.

Holly Smith:  Elena, what inspired the creation of Two Wings?

Elena Bondar:  After doing thorough research, we noticed that most shelters had similar needs. There was often a lack of assistance with transitioning clients to independence. We are here to bridge the gap between life in a shelter and independent living. It is important that these women find stability and can rely on people other than the harmful personalities they have been exposed to in their past. Our mentors form valuable relationships with our clients to build them up to a point where they can feel self-sufficient.

We have two client-centered programs: educational workshops & life coaching. The workshops are available to everyone in the shelter and focus on building survivors’ knowledge, confidence, and skills related to independent living, career development, and educational advancement. Our life coaching program is designated for survivors who are further along in their recovery and are ready to consider a transition into a career or higher education.

Over the past 1.5 years, we have been able to gain strategic partnerships with shelters to provide services for their clients; and we have had three life coaching clients so far. All three are currently in the process of selecting their internships and awaiting their career mentor.

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UpRising Yoga brings hope & teaches discipline to at-risk youth

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

UpRising Yoga

LOS ANGELES, CA, August 17, 2013 – Jill Weiss, Founder and Executive Director of Uprising Yoga, aspires to “bring yoga to at-risk youth and communities that need it most.” Located in Downtown Los Angeles, UpRising Yoga travels to juvenile halls, juvenile prison camps, and residential group homes in the L.A. area. The specific populations served in juvenile halls are children with a history of foster care and / or commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC).

“Yoga has healed so much in my life and I want to give that back to my community,” stated Weiss, “It all started when I approached the officials in the Probation Department of L.A. County about the possibility of bringing yoga to the youth in Juvenile Hall…I was so excited when they accepted. Not only have I had a past history of jails and institutions, addiction and medications, depression and hopelessness; I have been able to shed the imprisonment of despair with a yoga practice that changed the direction of my life. UpRising Yoga is my way of honoring that.”

Holly Smith: Jill, your story is so inspirational. I often encourage those involved with CSEC prevention and aftercare to incorporate the practice of yoga in their curricula. Are the services you provide in accordance with any particular standards?

Jill Weiss: UpRising Yoga only has certified Yoga instructors. Our yoga classes provide yoga teachers who have also taken our training, a curriculum that includes tools to bring healing to survivors of trauma. The other topics included are CSEC Training from Probation, specialized techniques to work with trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and high levels of stress. I have also taken Carissa Phelps’ Runaway Girl Training, which helped to shape our curriculum.

Read the article on the Washington Times website