Two weeks ago, I visited Tanya at her new home: her college dorm. Tanya once thought that college wasn’t in the cards for her —she didn’t believe she could find a community where she would fit in. When we first met Tanya, she was a fourteen-year-old survivor of sexual exploitation. She had been commercially exploited by men who believed that she was a commodity that they could use and throw away. Her community saw her as a “bad kid”. Tanya felt judged and worthless.
When Tanya met her Survivor Mentor, Ann, she wasn’t convinced that we could help. She felt alone and profoundly angry—she had every right to be. She had been victimized by a multibillion dollar industry that systematically targets the most vulnerable children in our communities.
Now four years later, Tanya is a strong, proud young woman. She graduated high school with the rest of her peers last year and was given a four year scholarship to a top university. She knows that what happened to her was not her fault—that she is neither damaged nor worthless. She believes in her heart that her Mentor cares for her, wants the best for her, and has full faith in her. She has found her voice and sees herself as a leader in the movement to end exploitation. She has been an active member of our Leadership Corps, and is someone other girls in our program look up to.
My Life, My Choice strives to help survivors of sexual exploitation like Tanya find their voice, their place, their strength and their resilience. Our Survivor Mentor program is the core of a continuum of services we offer. Youth survivors, as well as those that are deemed to be at high risk for exploitation, receive one on one support for as long as they need it. We have served girls since our founding in 2002 and last spring launched a pilot program for boys and transgender youth. My Life My Choice is a nationally recognized survivor-led organization working to stem the tide of commercial sexual exploitation of adolescents. As of July 2014, we have trained over 7,000 youth providers, led prevention groups for more than 1,750 girls and mentored over 300 girls in the Greater Boston area.
As we walked through her dorm, Tanya pointed to different doors where her new friends lived. She told me about the incredible food in the cafeteria, her really nice roommate, her own messy side of her dorm room, and how great her public speaking class is. I left homemade cookies, pizza money, and a card from all the staff telling her how much we all love her. Tanya deserves this and so much more. Every young person does.
Like Tanya, there are countless girls who are commercially sexually exploited every day. Like Tanya, they need compassion, support, faith, and opportunity to become the next generation of leaders in the fight to end exploitation.
About the blogger:
Lisa has been working with vulnerable young people in a variety of capacities for almost twenty-five years. Her professional experience includes running a long-term shelter for homeless teen parents, developing a diversion program for violent youth offenders, and working in outpatient mental health, health promotion, and residential treatment settings. She has served as a consultant to the Massachusetts Administrative Office of the Trial Court’s “Redesigning the Court’s Response to Prostitution” project, and as a primary researcher on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services national study of programs serving human trafficking victims. She has served as the Co-Chair of the Training and Education Committee of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, and is currently the Chair of the Training and Education Implementation Subcommittee.