"The Painted Door - Stories of Sex Trafficking Survivors"
During the past three years I have organized regular workshops at GenerateHope. GenerateHope is a home where young girls who have been subjected to sex trafficking can live and heal. We have visited this home regularly with a small group of Lawyers Club members. During these visits, it has been our goal to provide the women with a safe environment where they can express their desires and ambitions. Together, we talk about their future, a future often previously considered unattainable. We encourage them to dream again, while brainstorming career paths and proposing practical steps to achieve these objectives. Here are some of the stories from GenerateHope. For privacy purposes, the names have been altered:
Eva wants to be a writer. She wants to write a screenplay about her experience being trafficked. She wants to share her story because she wants young women to know, “usually it starts with falling in love with the wrong guy.” She said, “Writing gives you so much freedom.” We encourage her to send us her screenplay so we can review it and provide feedback. Softly, she responds, “I used to think I had no right to have a voice.”
Olivia wants to work in the tech world. As a child, she was isolated, scolded, and abused. She was not allowed to play with other children. She said, “Video games helped me escape my own reality.” Now, as an adult, she wants to create video games herself. She wants to remove the stigma of the female gamer. We encourage her to visit community colleges to learn about technology, and to let us know if she needs help applying for scholarships.
Grace wants to go to the police academy. She said she has had bad encounters with the police, and she feels like officers should understand how it feels like to be on the other side. Alternatively, she wants to volunteer with an animal shelter, and search and care for abandoned animals. We connect her with a local dog walker who needs help.
Emily wants to be a cook or a florist. She likes working alone and she likes creating beautiful things. After our visit, we reach out to caterers and florists to ask if she can shadow them for a day.
Sophie wants to be able to support her son. She lost her son to “the system” due to her trafficking experiences. She grew up in a foster home. She is upset that her son is also not in a stable environment. She wants to get a job as a barista because she loves people. She then wants to manage and eventually own a coffee shop. She has decided that she will call the coffee shop “The Painted Door.” It will be a place for children without a stable home to gather and play. The children will be allowed to paint the door a different color every day. She wants to provide them with purpose and a community. For herself, all she wants is her son back. She said, “I don’t want to drive a fancy car, I just want to get by, and see my son’s smile every morning.” We tell Sophie we are happy to help her write her resume, look for barista jobs, and prepare for any interviews.
I was shocked by my own biased presumptions when I went into this experience. First, I assumed all these women would come from an unstable, neglected, or abusive home. This is not the case; there is no one profile of a trafficking survivor. Second, I assumed trafficked women would mostly be foreign. Turns out I was usually the only foreign-born person in the room. Trafficking is an American issue happening to local girls. Third, I assumed they would be emotionally fragile and reluctant to speak with attorneys. It is true that some were skeptical towards our visit, as most of their interactions with lawyers and law enforcement had been punitive and some of did not feel ready to share their hopes and desires. But overall, these women possess a high level of intelligence, perseverance, strength, and courage. They are eloquent and poised, and ready to take on the world.
One constant I discovered is that most women seek a future in care. They want to care for others because they know what it feels like not to be cared for themselves. I always leave feeling humbled and inspired, and ready to pursue life with more compassion, more empathy, and more conviction to help those in need.
Daphne Delvaux is an employment lawyer and wrote this on behalf of Lawyers Club's Human Trafficking Collaborative.