How did you become involved in the movement against human trafficking?
I had the classic ‘aha moment’ or an epiphany last spring as I watched a newscast about trafficked teens in my neighborhood here in Virginia. At that moment, I realized that all those years ago when I’d been in the streets of New York, the man who’d exploited me had actually been trafficking me. He had been a pimp, true, but for years I’d been thinking all that happened to me had been my fault, the abuse I suffered before I ran away from home, the beating he gave me to make me compliant and more. I had truly believed all of those things were my fault and I’d carried it with me for decades. That night, something happened to me as I listened and reacted to the newscast about girls who were the same age as I had been being trafficked, which was a new word to me. I realized with utter clarity that I had been a victim, and that I had been trafficked. Of course, I had the criminal record to prove that I had been trafficked and more, but realizing that he had exploited me was a powerful realization. So, I decided then and there to make a difference. I made a website and I started to speak out and share my story right away. My story was covered on Fox News and other varied media as I began my journey from survivor to activist.
What draws you to support and advocate for people enslaved by traffickers?
My past draws me; personally, I feel a responsibility as a survivor to share my story to help educate and empower others.
What does your work involve?
My work involves first educating and empowering others by sharing my story, by speaking out or by writing in my blog or in my books, and working with legislators to help ensure that the correct statutes are in place that will aid survivors to lead productive lives. I have a book in progress that speaks to my story and the lessons I learned while being trafficked for nine years in the streets of New York, and I am developing curriculum/trainings for the school system and more here in Virginia to help educate and teach about human trafficking. I have also written a graphic novel about a superhero that fights human trafficking. I have too many projects going on. I cannot seem to stop. I also write a column in The Washington Times.
What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish human trafficking?
I am strongly involved right now, and only recently testified in the Virginia General Assembly regarding ensuring the legislation that’s passed will enable survivors to vacate any criminal convictions they may have got while being trafficked. I want to see this important law enacted in each and every state here in the U.S. Right now, there are only seven states that allow survivors to have the stigma of a criminal record removed – a factor that enables them to lead productive lives.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
First, just get involved; it’s simple really, just by someone reading the interviews on your site, Ruth, they are on the road to making a difference. Do whatever they are able to do – start a website, hold meetings to raise awareness, contact their legislators and make sure the correct laws are in place regarding survivors, go to an anti-human trafficking meeting or rally in their neighbourhood, volunteer. There’s so much people can do.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now, to be more involved in the policy and legislation side of things. I feel that real work needs to be done in that arena for sure, and of course, I am working towards getting my book, A Girls Guide to Survival: Life Lessons from the Street, published and I’m planning on speaking in many places in 2013.
Recommended websites/further reading:
My website www.barbaraamaya.com
Gems, Girls Like Us, by Rachel Lloyd – great, great book
There are so many others too, but I really suggest people read and check out their governments laws regarding human trafficking statutes and work towards making sure that there are laws in place that benefit human trafficking victims and survivors.
- ‘Breaking My Silence’, a short piece of non-fiction written by Barbara Amaya, can be read on Voices of Prostitution Survivors here.