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.

In February 2011, CAST created a National Survivor Network through which I was able to meet many survivors of human trafficking. The mission statement of the National Survivor Network is as follows:

To  bring together a community of survivors of human trafficking, by creating a platform for survivor-led advocacy, peer-to-peer mentorship, and empowerment, that embraces all survivors, regardless of gender, age, nationality or type of trafficking experience.

If you are a survivor and would like to join the National Survivor Network, please contact Vanessa Lanza, CAST’s Director of Partnerships, at

Through my participation with CAST’s National Survivor Network, I have created a Speaker’s Bureau for survivors of human trafficking. I also had the honor of writing my testimony with CAST Survivor Advisory Caucus member, Ima Matul, for presentation to Congress regarding the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA) in September 2011.

This was the first time a U.S. citizen and foreign national survivor of human trafficking provided joint testimony to Congress, demonstrating a united front among individuals with a diversity of experiences. CAST regularly organizes meetings on Capitol Hill for legislative staff to meet with empowered survivors of various forms of human trafficking.

Below is a picture from last year in which I was able to testify in a House Briefing with fellow survivors Ima Matul and Shamere McKenzie. Shamere is the Program Assistant for Courtney’s House in Washington D.C. and the Policy Assistant for Shared Hope International.

I’m honored to know and to work with these empowered survivors and organizations in a collective effort to advocate for stronger anti-trafficking laws and greater protection for survivors of all forms of human trafficking.

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From left to right: Shamere McKenzie, Ima Matul, and Holly Smith


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