Conversations about sex trafficking – whether they be a few minutes or a few hours presentation – often leave people with a sense of hopelessness and despair. With so much information to absorb, it can be difficult to move past the darkness to see the hope and light for survivors of trafficking. Women and men who are recovered and escape from the life have a long journey of healing and restoration that will continue long into their lives. However as many walk the path to becoming healthy again, they find that their passions now lie with helping others who have been victimized and exploited. Their stories provide the hope, light, and inspiration that is needed in order to see how these incredible women are being restored.
Below are a few profiles of well-known survivors of trafficking who are working in the United States to support victims and survivors in their own cities and nation-wide. Please check out their organizations and ministries to learn more about their work and their stories.
Brooke Axtell, Allies Against Slavery and Survivor Healing and Empowerment (S.H.E.)
Brooke Axtell became the face of a survivor of domestic violence at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, where she performed a piece of spoken word that she had written about her own experience. While Brooke’s performance has been viewed and shared by thousands since the Grammy’s, her advocacy work began prior to that after she escaped the abusive relationship she found herself in.
Brooke, also a survivor of child domestic sex trafficking at the age of seven years old, lives and works in Texas with Allies Against Slavery as their Director of Communications, as well as founded a healing community specifically for sex trafficking and sexual abuse survivors called Survivor Healings and Empowerment (S.H.E.). She speaks across the nation about domestic sex trafficking, sharing her story and her poems to spread awareness and grow passion in others. The staff of Exploit No More had the opportunity to meet and talk with Brooke in 2015 as she recently spoke to students at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Rebecca Bender, Rebecca Bender Ministries
Rebecca Bender is a survivor of domestic sex trafficking, a speaker, advocate, and author of her memoir and book for survivors, Roadmap to Redemption. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four children while running a ministry that she started focused on raising awareness about sex trafficking and training survivor-leaders around the nation. Rebecca Bender Ministries also works in consulting NGOs and non-profit organizations in their work with survivors and in victim-centered advocacy efforts.
Brenda Myers-Powell, Dreamcatcher Foundation
A survivor of sexual, physical, and mental abuse, as well as of sex trafficking, Brenda Myers-Powell founded the Dreamcatcher Foundation, an organization working to bring education, empowerment, and active prevention to young at-risk girls in the city of Chicago. Brenda fell victim to trafficking after running away from an abusive home at the age of 14. After 25 years in the life, Brenda now uses her experiences to mentor and relate to girls in similar situations as her own. The Dreamcatcher Foundation provides services including healing and recovery groups; physical, emotional, and psychological health services; personal development; and educational services.
Brenda was recently featured in Dreamcatcher, a documentary that focuses on prostitution and sex trafficking in Chicago and the work that The Dreamcatcher Foundation is doing to prevent exploitation and support victims.
Rachel Lloyd, GEMS
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, or GEMS, is located in Harlem, New York and is one of the most recognized organizations working to provide services for survivors of sex trafficking, educating the public on the issue, and putting pressure on legislation. This is mainly thanks to the organizations CEO, Rachel Lloyd, who is a survivor of sexual abuse and trafficking herself. Originally from England, Rachel left an abusive home at a young age and eventually found herself in prostitution. She moved to Germany in hopes of turning her life around, however was unable to escape the life, continuing to be trafficked for two more years. In 1997, she moved to the United States and began her work with victimized women and girls, assisting them in their road to recovery. She has recorded her story in her book, Girls Like Us: Fighting For a World Where Girls Are Not For Sale, as well as has been featured in the documentary Very Young Girls, which tells the stories of 13 and 14 year old girls who were exploited in New York and treated as adult criminals.
These ladies are just four of hundreds of survivor advocates working to use their own experiences in order to help others in their healing journey. Exploit No More has been blessed to have a number of survivors in the Milwaukee community who share this same desire. While the healing journey continues, our survivor advocates and volunteers have reached the point in their journey that they have a passion to help other girls and women who have been victimized and exploited. Without survivor-led mentorship and leadership in the fight to end sex trafficking, organizations are at a huge disadvantage and leave the survivors they are attempting to help at a loss. Survivors who have a passion to help others who were victimized provide a space for understanding, vulnerability in sharing stories, and healing.