For the past year, API Chaya staff have worked with a cohort of survivor leaders with lived experiences surviving human trafficking. Each person came from a different experience of exploitation, including different home countries and industries worked. By request of the interviewees, these interviews are published using only their first names (including some psuedonyms) and intentionally do not disclose details about their trafficking experiences. Rather, this interview focuses on their experiences in the past year taking part in our survivor leadership group, the lessons they’ve learned, and the visions that continue to inspire them to take part in the anti-trafficking movement. For one of our participants, an interpreter supported the interview process.
API Chaya: How did you become part of the survivor leader group? What motivated you?
Cristina: Through you guys. Because I’m curious and want to learn more about your program and the other people, their lives… I want to know how it feels.
Billy: I was a client of API Chaya and I been attending lots of events and gathering from API Chaya. I was interested in the leadership program. [My former advocate] told me the requirements. I thought I was really interested to do it. Try payback community in some way. It was something I really wanted to do.
Linda: For me, people might think that after escaping the trafficking situation, received help from social service agencies, survivors should be ready to move on. That was not true in my case. The journey of seeking justice is much longer and complicated. In order for me to find some justice for my life, I had to tell my story over and over to the homeland security investigators and to my immigration lawyer. It was like living in a nightmare and was very stressful… With API Chaya, I been going to survivor gatherings for a while. When I learned about the leadership group, I said yes, because I want to become the support for other new survivors in the program.
API Chaya: In the Spring, you came with us to the Freedom Network Conference in Washington DC and got to see part of what the National Anti-Trafficking Field looks like. What was that experience like for you?
Linda: I met so many heroes there, including the human trafficking survivors who now became leaders in the trafficking movement. I learned a lot from this conference and I feel even more eager to make a difference in this community.
Billy: I had learned a lot about the deeper concept of human trafficking and I learned how to support people in the community… I was able to meet a lot of people and talk to them about their experience, learn about it, and now, I am able to spread the word and to work to prevent this from happening. [Looking at the national work,] I thought we did such a good job supporting victims and helping them with all basic needs, housing, but one thing that I believe we still need to work on is to educate people — have people understand about human trafficking. Some people don’t even know what that is, folks from the countryside, people not going to college. People don’t understand what it means to be trafficked.
API Chaya: What are your goals for what you want to contribute to anti-trafficking work?
Billy: My vision is that we can expand the leadership program and recruit more people, come together and share stories and build up a community to support each other. And contribute to the work of the anti-trafficking movement… Mainly I want to help people, bring people together, who have been through the situation like me. It has been one year and I’ve done a lot, help events, participate in a lot of trainings, learn how to become a HT survivor leader, understand the concept of HT, and support others. The part I want to take on, because I’m a computer science major, is I want to be able to incorporate tech to figure out how to improve… and push the anti-human trafficking movement even further than where we are right now.
In 10 years, I want to be a software engineer. On my vacations, days off, I want to go to different countries and speak to people about human trafficking…. Give speeches in different parts of the world, because who knows about human trafficking better than the people that experience it.
Linda: I want to support and empower other human trafficking survivors. I am not just talking about basic needs such as foods, shelters, transportation, immigration and healthcare. I am talking about the long term support- the journey of healing. I want to become the support for other new survivors in the program. I want to help them have a better understanding of the process. I want to be by their side helping them to rebuild their life and empower them to not giving up like I once did.
I want to learn and taking on more training in order to support other human trafficking survivors. And I want to outreach people in and outside community to understand what is human trafficking and how they can help us, how they can be a part of preventing the problem.
Cristina: I hope for human trafficking to end… My hope is for more people and more organizations that can help these type of survivors… [Before,] I knew nothing of these types of organizations. So I want people to be more informed, probably TV announcements, spreading fliers in public places… or posting announcements on web pages with a lot of visits. I want people to get to know what to do and where to go. Most of the time, people only know they can call 911, but if someone is in fear, they are not going to [call].
I think we are going to have to be able to help each other out, because [trafficking] is something you just can’t tell anyone… when you speak with someone that went through a similar case, you can speak more openly about what happened; you can speak about how they overcome their problem.
API Chaya: What is something you have learned that you want everyone to know?
Linda: There is always hope. API Chaya is a part of my life now. Without the support, I might have just said, deport me. I just give up. But, at API Chaya, there’s no discrimination. They understand everything and try to help out.
Billy: Human trafficking is everywhere. We are in a digital age. You can get trafficked easily. I want people to know that. [I want survivors to know] it’s okay to speak their mind. It’s okay to fight against what is not right. There’s always people out there that are going to help you and support you going through those times.
I want people not only to understand the concept of human trafficking, but also begin the action. Start to do something. You don’t have to donate a million dollars to actually become a person that tries to support the survivor. Just start to look around you, start noticing things, you know.
When you walk into a restaurant and you see a kid or someone working hours on end, instead of keeping silent, its not my business, say something, question it… In my situation, I had so much fear in me. A lot of victims, the fear overwhelms them from speaking their mind, speaking the truth.
Cristina: For me, it’s also about keeping hope. Even if everything is lost, with all the people who can help, things can change.
API Chaya: Has there been a favorite part of the leadership group for you or any highlight?
Cristina: Losing the fear of socializing. It keeps me motivated to stay in this group.
Billy: Yes. I think every survivor should experience this… I was able to step out of my comfort zone and able to connect in a way. I was able to build a deeper connection with other folks in group, able to see things in other perspectives, not only as a gay youth, but from someone the age of my mom… I learn a lot from them. The strength that we have is each person has their own story… its the most powerful thing that we have.
Linda: Yes. Thank you for asking me to be a part of this survivor group. My favorite part is I make more friends, get more connected to the movement, receive training from API Chaya which give me confidence and make me stronger. I’m so ready to make a difference in the life of others.
Billy will be speaking at the Friends of Nepal gala on September 28, 2019. He will also be receiving an award and delivering a speech at the International Rescue Committee’s annual gala on October 4, 2019.
If you are a survivor of human trafficking and you want to get involved with API Chaya or need help, please contact us at [email protected] or call our helpline at 1-877-922-4292. Advocates are available Monday through Friday from 10:00 AM -4:00 PM. Please ask for an interpreter if you need one.