By Audrey Morrissey, Associate Director, My Life My Choice
At My Life My Choice we offer a continuum of survivor-led services that focus on preventing the commercial sexual exploitation of youth. As Associate Director of My Life My Choice, I have used my voice to advocate and empower youth caught in the Life, and adult survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.
As a survivor, I have often faced people who do not take my voice seriously; people who think, “Once a ho, always a ho.” For a while, I believed that too. Now I know different.
I began co-leading My Life My Choice with Lisa Goldblatt Grace, its co-founder and Director, in 2003 – more than a decade ago. In 2004, I founded our Survivor Mentoring program that pairs exploited and high risk youth with a trained Survivor Mentor for a one-on-one, long-term relationship.
My story of survival began in Boston in the 1970s. A light-skinned, African-American girl, I was taunted by neighborhood kids, called names like white girl and pus-colored. By age ten I had little self-esteem and self-worth, and was living in a home wracked by alcoholism and absent of nurturing. I was taught to be seen and not heard.
I met my first pimp when I was fifteen. Within a year he became my boyfriend and the father of my first daughter. A handsome transfer student, the attention he paid me was unexpected and I quickly fell in love. We rode through the bright lights of Boston’s old Combat Zone and all I saw were fur coats, diamonds, and glamour. He told me that if I went to work for us, we could buy our own place and a car, and have a wonderful life for ourselves and our daughter.
I was in the Life until a heroin addiction forced me into detox at age thirty. At that time, no one was out there supporting commercially sexually exploited women and girls. The only intervention I got was from a van that handed out condoms to protect the men buying sex from the unclean prostitutes. Because of programs like My Life My Choice, that has changed.
My Life My Choice has trained more than 6,000 service providers in commercial sexual exploitation, reached more than 1,500 vulnerable girls with its prevention curriculum, and mentored more than 250 youth. I am so proud of how far we have come: from two staff to fourteen, from one mentor to seven. Last year alone we mentored 126 high risk or exploited youth.
In 2007 I was humbled to be awarded the Petra Foundation Fellowship and in 2012 I was named a Boston Neighborhood Fellow, a huge honor in my community. I have transformed from a child that was silenced to a strong, confident woman with a megaphone. The recognition I have received for my work is proof that one voice does make a difference.
To all survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, you are more than what they call you. You are more than a prostitute. Let go of that stigma. You can be anything you want to be. Chase your dream, whatever it is. I found my voice by helping others and fighting against commercial sexual exploitation. Find your passion and use your voice!