Finding Freedom + Dreams for the Future: Stephanie’s Story
At Freedom a la Cart we are inspired every day by our employees. It’s a privilege to be a part of their journeys of healing, independence and self-sufficiency. Stephanie, a CATCH Court graduate and Freedom employee, has graciously volunteered to share a little bit about her experiences as a survivor of human trafficking and her work with Freedom. Here is her story:
Tell us a little about your background. How did you become involved with Freedom?
I was in CATCH Court and became a graduate. All the while, Chef and all the mentors were watching me blossom. I was a prostitute for 15 years and human trafficked. Freedom gave me an opportunity to redeem myself and gave me back my self worth and a purpose. I’ve been here ever since, almost 6 months. Freedom brought me back and made me feel like I was employable. I’m now a cleaner. Wherever they need me I’m there to assist, help, and encourage. I have compassion and help boost everyone up.
What was your mindset when you first joined Freedom? How has Freedom a la Cart helped you?
For me, Freedom meant having purpose, having a place where I felt I belonged, and loving me so I could love myself. I started to feel worthy and good enough, and when self-doubt would kick in – Freedom gave me the positive criticism and positive role models I needed to know who I wanted to be and what I wanted to be like. This has played a huge role in my life.
What sorts of skills have you learned?
I used my customer service skills in the wrong way for so many years. Now I’m learning how to use them to reach out to others for a cause. I’ve learned how to have a good work ethic and be a team player. I now want to share that effort, good feeling, and awareness with other girls and show them it’s possible.
What are your plans and goals for the future?
I am taking the GED and going back to school for my substance abuse counseling degree. I want to play a big part in giving back what was given so freely to me. I feel I am a testament for other girls that there are certain steps you can follow to reach your goals. Going back to school proves to me I can do it. Now I am bigger and better than I’ve ever been and I want to show the next suffering addict that it’s possible for her too.
What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about trafficking? Is there anything you wish more people knew or understood about it?
Human trafficking is at our back door; not only in bad neighborhoods. It’s in rural areas: Dublin, Westerville, Worthington, and other high-paid communities. We didn’t set out to be broken and abused – it was something that was set in us as young girls. We were prepped for that lifestyle and used in our teenage years. It broke my self-esteem and brought on a life of misery and feelings of unworthiness for relationships. But it always starts in the home. Men prey upon younger girls that are lonely, have family problems, are prone to addiction, and are habitual runaways. They bring them in, prep them, make them feel loved, and then begin feeding them drugs. It then becomes physical; we want the next high, and must return over and over again to human traffickers. We are underneath their thumb due to drugs.
What can people do to help end trafficking and help survivors?
Mentoring would bring priceless results. Learn parts of who we are in our world. Share that we’re normal people that might’ve made a bad choice or just had a bad start in life. I truly think having a big sister program would help, along with people finding human trafficking programs that make them feel good and spending time in it. Do some research, and then come out and get to know us.