By Ann Wilkinson, Director of Mentoring Services
When I boarded a plane to Denver last March, I did so as a leader and an expert in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. When I last left Denver, I was a very different person. I had been introduced to the city by a violent pimp after driving across the country with him, and being forced to work at countless strip clubs along the way. I had left, feeling worthless, after a particularly violent beating by my pimp spurred me to purchase a one-way ticket to Boston and never look back. I knew that I had to leave to save my life.
This time, I was back in Denver to work with DATA – the Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance – a collaborative of more than forty agencies fighting against commercial sexual exploitation. Denver and the surrounding cities looked very different to me; the airport – where I used to sit and watch planes take off – had moved, and Shotgun Sam’s – the strip club I worked at – had been torn down and then remodeled. It was surreal just being there. I remembered watching the planes take off I had never had the opportunity to walk around the city and explore during my time there. It felt good to go back as a survivor leader and to share my expertise with other people working to make a change.
In this new role, I shared advice on working with and educating at-risk and exploited youth, I talked about how to include survivors in a healthy, constructive way, and suggested ways that My Life My Choice’s survivor mentorship program and prevention curriculum might be replicated in Colorado. Along with other advocates, I participated in the production of a survivor empathy video, a video made to help everyday people understand the real consequences of commercial sexual exploitation.
A longer version of the video will air as a PBS documentary, Live Through This: Survivors of Sex Trafficking https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBz5XRC-prc For me, this was more than just a business trip. It represented my coming full circle, completing my transition from victim to survivor to leader.