The Avery Center—formerly Free Our Girls—was founded in 2014 to address the gap in direct services for adults experiencing commercial sex trafficking in Northern Colorado and across the United States.
2000: The Trafficking Victims Protection Act
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 is the first comprehensive federal law to address sex trafficking in persons. The law provides a three-pronged approach that includes prevention, protection, and prosecution.
2010: Re-authorization of the TVPA
The United States did not formally acknowledge that trafficking was happening domestically until a re-authorization of the Act in 2010.
2014: Recognizing Need In Our Community
Since its founding in 2014, Free Our Girls was destined to achieve great things. As the only anti-trafficking direct service organization north of Denver, and as one of only a handful of survivor-led organizations across the United States, the organization began seeing hundreds of referrals and requests for support almost immediately.
2015: Cultic Theory
Founder and director Megan Lundstrom discovered that pimp-controlled domestic sex trafficking meets all 15 characteristics of a cultic group. Since that time, she has spent countless hours of observational research and qualitative interview time collecting data to support this theory. Our approach is unique because we operate from the foundation that most survivors of domestic sex trafficking require psychological intervention and aftercare deprogramming prior to reintegrating into their community. The organization uses this cultic theory in all aspects of its work – from outreach to direct services for survivors.
This theory is bringing an unprecedented shift to anti-trafficking work as service providers better understand the depth of impact of such abuse tactics as mind control and thought reform exhibited by sex trafficked victims.
2015-2017: Expanding Our Services
While existing research is limited as to the prevalence of this violation of human rights, what is available suggests that approximately one in four victims of sex trafficking are under the age of 18, yet three out of four agencies serve exclusively juveniles. When it comes to sex trafficking, there are no boundaries. Victims can be any age, gender, or demographic – traffickers don’t discriminate. At this point in 2015, Free Our Girls recognized that expanding service parameters to meet the needs of adult victims and survivors was critical.
In 2017, the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force based in Denver recovered 17 children across Colorado and into Wyoming. Of those recovered, more than half of the children were male victims. Once again, Free Our Girls recognized the importance of expanding service parameters to address sex trafficking, this time to meet the needs of all genders.
2017: Advancements in Academic Research
In 2017, Free Our Girls embarked on a research project in partnership with the University of Northern Colorado to interview individuals across the United States who were currently experiencing, or who had previously experienced, exploitation. Since then, that project has expanded and continued, with a current data set of nearly 70 victims and survivors who have shared their experiences of exploitation with the organization, pushing Free Our Girls to the forefront of academic research in this field of anti-trafficking work.
2020: Introducing The Avery Center
After a six-month, intensive and intentional strategic planning process over the fall of 2019 and into the spring of 2020, Free Our Girls’ board and executive staff collectively decided that a name change and re-branding was necessary in order to communicate more inclusively to the ages and genders of the survivors we walk alongside. This new brand also formally includes the academic research, training, consulting, and policy advocacy work that our organization now performs.
Our research arm focuses on advocating and evaluating demand and harm reduction frameworks to identify and hold accountable those that fuel exploitation, and to better identify, intervene, and empower those who have experienced exploitation.
Our service arm focuses on economic empowerment-focused programs, such as financial literacy curriculum and our Job Training Program, as well as peer support groups and basic needs resource delivery. The majority of our direct services take place in our Greeley offices, with several of our programs now available nation-wide online.
We'd like to say thank you to N2 Publishing and our friends Jacquelyn Curran and Elaine Robertson for helping to shape and edit this story for the May 2020 edition of Living in Harmony magazine.
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