The following post was written by Susan Alves, My Life My Choice Senior Survivor Mentor and Amy Corbett, LMHC, My Life My Choice Director of Prevention. Since 2002, My Life My Choice has worked to end child sexual exploitation through survivor-led programs that empower youth and their allies to fight back. During Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we’re amplifying the voices of survivors and those working on the front lines of trafficking. While we’re proud of the results of our tools to identify victims faster, we know that the issue doesn’t end there. We’re excited by the strides being made on the prevention front.
“You are vulnerable for exploitation when you lack something – whether it is love, a home, and family – pimps figure out what you are missing and promise to give it to you. They paint this image that they can give you everything.”
– Rose*, 20 year old Youth Survivor Leader at My Life My Choice
In 2001, a young Boston woman was brutally murdered while being commercially sexually exploited. She was 17 years old and living in a child welfare funded group home. Unbeknownst to any of the caring adults in her life (her family, her child welfare worker, the group home staff), she was being sold for sex by a pimp. Following her death, leaders across Boston came together to ask “was this an isolated incident or the tip of the iceberg?” We quickly learned it was just the tip. Out of Latasha’s death, My Life My Choice was born.
Addressing Vulnerabilities with Informed Prevention
The My Life My Choice Prevention Curriculum was developed in response to Latasha’s death and was designed as a way to fight back— equipping girls with the knowledge and skills they need to reduce their risk. Written with the authentic voices of survivors, the ten-week group is designed to reach adolescent girls who are disproportionately at higher risk to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation and teach them how to recognize and avoid the recruitment tactics of pimps and find a path out of exploitation if they are already involved.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children pits the most marginalized and vulnerable youth in our communities up against the multi-billion-dollar sex industry. Susan Alves is a Senior Survivor Mentor at My Life My Choice and regularly co-facilitates our prevention groups. Sue knows that it is not a fair fight. She is committed to using her voice, experiences, and expertise to fight this egregious form of child abuse:
“As a survivor myself, I find that in facilitating groups I can always share an experience of my own when it is necessary and it is conducive to the group. A lot of times I see that the girls in group will not believe that exploitation exists or that it can happen to them, so I have to deliver this pertinent information and use snippets of my own experience with exploitation. Many times, I have witnessed the girls in group identify with a piece of my story that was shared or information from the curriculum, and then the state of denial in the youth seems to dissipate. When I experience this, it confirms that today I am a living example of the solution to end exploitation, and, at the same time, I am able to be the segue for that child to get the appropriate help to prevent them from any further abuse.
“Many years ago, when I was in the Life, there wasn’t much around where we could seek help, support and education on staying safe. Today, prevention and education to me is the main antidote to end exploitation. I always express to the youth that I don’t want any child to go through the horrors of exploitation as I did. Last, in co-facilitating the prevention groups as a survivor, it continues to give me peace, healing and the strength to be a powerful example of a survivor leader.”
It can be far too easy to see commercial sexual exploitation as an inevitable form of abuse, sewn deep into the fabric of our society. It is not. The fight is not a fair one, but everyday survivor voices become louder, new allies join the fight, and providers become more sophisticated and coordinated in their prevention efforts. At My Life My Choice we know that building awareness is not enough. Effective prevention encompasses changes in attitudes, knowledge, and skills and shifting the way young people are served. Our Prevention Curriculum is part of our larger Prevention Solution which provides a blueprint for achieving shifts in behavior, shifts in practice and policy, and sustained system-wide change. Learn more.
*Name changed to protect identity
Susan has been mentoring vulnerable and exploited adolescents at My Life My Choice for almost five years. Prior to joining My Life My Choice, Susan worked in addiction services. She is a certified Recovery Coach.
As a licensed clinician Amy has provided services to vulnerable adolescent girls and their families for over 15 years. She has been with My Life My Choice for 4 years. Prior to joining My Life My Choice, she was the Clinical Director of a specialized group home for exploited girls.