An "Uneventful" Afternoon
On Thursday, December 1st, 2022, I had a slow-paced day but nothing out of the ordinary. I took my children to school and straightened up the house before turning to work tasks. In the afternoon, I presented as a Network Consultant for the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center to the brand-new cohort of grant recipients through the Office for Trafficking in Persons. I shared some of the lessons The Avery Center had learned over the past two years as an OTIP grant recipient ourselves, and all the ways that survivors can lead in anti-trafficking efforts. In the afternoon, I picked up my children from school, met with a teacher, and drove them around to their after-school activities. Then we went home, let out the dog, and I made dinner. It was uneventful. It was normal. Thursday, December 1st, 2022, was everything I had been working towards for the past decade.
You see, ten years ago – Saturday, December 1st, 2012 - I lay on a thin mat in a holding cell in Eagle County Jail in Vail, Colorado, curled up under the scratchy, standard issue blanket. The fluorescent lights were on day and night, and I tried to block them out with the blanket, but the light poked through the thin material. I was exhausted. Not just from being up all night yet again. My soul was tired after five years of prostitution and trafficking-related violence. I had just been arrested for the 11th time that year. As I lay there trying to fall asleep for even a few minutes, I wrestled with the reality I was facing: I would die and my children would lose their only parent, or I would go to jail and serve time, and lose custody of my children and they would grow up in the system.
I was finally at a place where I could make a plan on my own. Having recently fled Las Vegas from my trafficker, secured my own affordable housing, returned to school, and reconnected with my family of origin, I finally had the supports in place to escape the sex trade. And after multiple attempts to escape over the last five years, I knew what I needed and had access to it for this time to be different.
The End—And The Beginning
A lot of times, this is the point in human trafficking narratives where the story ends. We are focused on the abuse, the exploitation, the heroic rescue or daring escape. The reality for most survivors is this is where our journey really begins. Our vulnerabilities around race, gender, orientation, family and social dynamics, education level, employment opportunities … they are, at best, the same as when we entered our trafficking situation. Often, they are made worse by our trafficking experience through trauma, social isolation, exhaustion of community resources, criminalization, substance use disorder, loss of identification documents, evictions, and poor credit history, and much more. Freedom is an uphill battle from the point of exit.
Founding The Avery Center
Founding The Avery Center (then Free Our Girls) in 2014 was my way of seeking to not only better understand my experiences and bring awareness to my community about what was happening in my hometown, it was also a way of securing living wage employment where I had limited opportunity elsewhere due to my lack of education, work history, and a lengthy criminal record. It was also a way to create meaning and purpose out of what was done to me, and to create a workspace where other survivors felt empowered and supported. Over the past eight years, allies, mentors, and peers have come alongside me to support this vision of not just an accessible workplace for survivors like me, but a better world that doesn’t thrive on the exploitation of our most vulnerable. I have come to understand my personal journey and what makes me a unique individual, and I have also learned so much about the continuum of exploitation and variety of experiences that are classified as human trafficking.
I struggled to let go of the past when it was literally my job in the present.
Over this summer, as I worked with my therapist through EMDR, I hit a wall in some of my traumatic event reprocessing work. I was unable to move forward from some of my key memories from my trafficking experience. Through several weeks of work with my therapist, I came to the realization that a part of my present-day identity rested on my past reality of trauma. I struggled to let go of the past when it was literally my job in the present. At first, I didn’t know what to do with this new information, but I knew I needed to take a hard look at the work I am committed to and find ways to give myself permission to let go of that past trauma. I want to be known for my knowledge and skills, not for what other people did to me in just one chapter of my life.
Sealing The Record And Finding Closure
At roughly the same time as this work happening in therapy, after a year of court filings, I virtually attended my final hearing in Las Vegas to have the remainder of my criminal record sealed. I shared briefly with the judge the personal and professional work I had done over the past ten years, and the social and psychological barriers I still encountered because of my record. I explained that every school year, I had to submit a background check to be able to come onto the premises of my children’s school – that I could not volunteer or even have lunch with my first grader without the school seeing that I had once been in prostitution. It was humiliating that even after all this time and work, people would still see me as less-than. The judge commended my hard work and acknowledged that while many survivors pursue getting their record sealed to reduce barriers to housing and employment, I was pursuing it because of the healing that needed to be completed. She granted my request and within the month, my record of abuse no longer appeared on background checks. It was the final tangible piece of my past.
With all this closure, I was ready to start looking forward. I was no longer making decisions based on what limited options presented themselves, and what part of my past was least likely to haunt a new opportunity. I was ready to step into a new future as a healthy, healing, and fully supported individual with a thriving professional life and fulfilling family and home life.
I was no longer making decisions based on what limited options presented themselves, and what part of my past was least likely to haunt a new opportunity.
When I was approached this fall by a leading anti-trafficking organization with an invitation to join their team in the development of a ground-breaking project, I thought long and hard about what finishing this current chapter could look like. After a decade of fixing the harms done to myself and my children, after eight years of building a thriving organization that is now an industry leader – what did it look like to pursue the dreams that I have had since childhood for myself? It was time to move forward with certainty.
Moving Forward With Certainty
And so, I step into the next chapter of my life. At the end of December 2022, exactly ten years since I escaped the sex trade, I am moving forward with peace and certainty onto a new adventure. I will be moving onward from my role as founding Chief Executive Officer at The Avery Center. My time in the sector is nowhere near complete. But my time dependent upon and working around my victimization is. I will always carry my lived experience with me, and it will always inform the way I see the world. But I now have the formal and continuing education as well as the traditional work experience to know the powerful expertise I bring to the field of anti-exploitation efforts, and I have the stability and boundaries for a life beyond the office.
A Brave Space To Trust Again
These decisions have been hard, and there have been many hard conversations and afternoons of tears. I believe that the most important aspect of healing The Avery Center has facilitated for survivors like me is a brave space to be vulnerable and to learn to trust others again. It is with full confidence that I am handing our vision and mission over to our passionate board of directors and my confidante and our Director of Policy, Daniel Eastman, as our interim CEO. Daniel has been with our team since 2017 and there is no one I trust more to honor what I see for The Avery Center’s future and the wellbeing of our staff and those we walk with.
The Path Forward
Going into 2023, my ask for you as you read about these changes here at The Avery Center, is that you will continue to support our efforts in centering the voices of those of us with lived experience and ensuring that we are able to continue to lead the changemakers in reducing demand, convicting traffickers, and decreasing barriers for marginalized populations. Our efforts to provide the field with survivor-led and evidence-based practices remain our priority so that all survivors can experience their own journey to freedom in the way that I have over the last decade.
And on a personal note, it would be my honor to see you face-to-face at our upcoming 12th Night Ball so I can personally thank you for your support over these past eight years and introduce you to our 2023 team. Event details can be found on our website here: