In my last semester at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, I was told that I could graduate with honors because my grade point average was so high.
Cool! I thought.
I was told that all I had to do was present a project to the faculty of my Biology program.
I used to eat my ham and cheese sandwiches in the bathroom stall of my college because I was afraid of facing people in the cafeteria.
Without hesitation, I turned the possible honors achievement down.
This is why I was surprised when I found myself driving to DC nine years later in September 2009 to voluntarily speak at an event. Out loud. In front of people.
This was the first anti-human trafficking event I was attending. It was called ‘He Loves Her Not’ and the proceeds were going toCourtney’s House in Washington D.C. When I was trafficked for sexual exploitation at age fourteen in 1992, nearly twenty years
earlier, there were no programs or specialized services available to me. So, I just felt compelled to share my testimony in the interest of raising funds for Courtney’s House, whose mission statement reads as follows from their website:
Courtney’s House is committed to providing a loving environment for girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 18 who are
survivors of sex trafficking. We are dedicated to addressing the overlooked issues of domestic sex trafficking by providing
essential services to survivors.
It was about a two-hour drive from Richmond to the church in Arlington, VA where the event was being held. I left work early to beat the traffic. I practiced the speech in my head, feeling nothing but confidence, and then sang along to the radio.
This is gonna be a piece of cake, I thought.
I parked in a neighborhood near the church. The curved roads were smooth enough for roller skates, and the manicured lawns invited sockless toes. It was beautiful outside, and I felt good!
Tina Frundt, fellow survivor and founder of Courtney’s House, welcomed me with a warm hug and a free t-shirt with Shared Hope‘s slogan: End Demand. I sat in a pew surrounded by survivors and advocates. We watched a video and then it was time to speak.
I started to shake. It was the strangest feeling- like layers of clothing were peeling off me on a winter night.
I pulled on my jacket but, still, I shivered. The cold air seeped uner my skin and into my bones. I began to worry if people could see this happening.
I can’t do this, I thought.
I considered telling Jennifer, my new friend and volunteer for Courtney’s House, who sat beside me that I changed my mind. But I feared my teeth might chatter if I opened my mouth.
And then it happened- it was my turn.
I walked towards the podium feeling nothing less than panic over the idea of tripping. Every word of the speech fell out of my head, and I gripped the papers on which they were scribbled.
I took a deep breath, looked at my audience, and then began to read aloud.
Each sentence felt like a lifetime, but I forced myself to speak slowly and evenly. And after each paragraph, I looked up into the audience, sweaty and shuddering.
And then it was over.
I bee-lined back to the pew and began the painstaking process of calming down. My jaw was tight, my neck stiff, and I shook
against the nerves, and against the memories so suddenly unburied from their grave.
After the band finished their last song of serenity, I had finally calmed down enough to face the two-hour drive back home.
But then a series of events happened. It began with a parade of hugs and praises for a job well done! Then, I was invited to dinner with all the volunteers and staff with Courtney’s House and Shared Hope International. Dawn, a volunteer, sat next to me jokingly asked if my fiancé had any brothers. Elle, another survivor, walked me to my car, all the way cussing and laughing and wrapping her arm around my neck. And former congresswoman Linda Smith, president and founder of Shared Hope, paid for an extra hotel room so that I could stay overnight and join everyone for the first annual DC Stop Modern Slavery Walkthe next day.
The two-hour trip up and back had turned into an unexpected weekend family reunion, and I was never to feel alone again.
And so this is why I encourage you to pay it forward; you just might feel like you’ve won an honors achievement award. The next time you feel compelled to do something oustide of your comfort zone (so long as it’s healthy and positive), I encourage you to do it! It could be entering an art contest, applying for a new job, or joining a fitness program. If you’re brave enough to face your fears, it just might lead to a lifetime of opportunities.
You won’t know until you try…
10 Tips for New Survivor Speakers
Kindly written by Keisha Head, Survivor and CSEC expert with A Future. Not a Past.
1. Pray. Your spirtual health is vital.
2. Dress for success. You represent countless victims. Show the world our potential to succeed!
3. Speak clearly and boldly. The world needs to hear and remember your voice!
4. Be prepared. Make sure you know statistics related to your state. Accuracy is
important when trying to raise awareness!
5. Be Honest. If you don’t want to share information, don’t. Untruths catch up with you. It is
YOUR experience, own it!
6. Stand your ground. Media will try to make you answer tough questions. If you do not
want to, don’t! It is ok to say, No.
7. Have a plan. Know what you want out of the interview and what messages you want to
8. Be a survivor, not a victim. Always paint a picture of success so that the world knows there is
hope worth fighting for.
9. Always ask, “What will be the title of the article?” And request the reporter NOT use titles like
“Teen Hooker,” ”Child Prostitute,” etc. These titles do not portray a victim.
10. Smile! You are a survivor. Be Proud.