Human Trafficking Survivor Stories: Freedom a la Cart’s Vivian Kriel
Since bringing Freedom food to Columbus in 2011, our organization has had a lot of help in getting to where we are today. We are driven by the stories of the incredibly strong women that we’ve come to know and work with. Through their courage, perseverance, laughter, and friendship, these survivors of human trafficking keep us motivated in our fight for freedom. And so today, we want to share with you the story of a woman who reinforces our cause every single day.
Vivian Kriel is one of Freedom’s first employees and a peer mentor for the women enrolled in the CATCH program. In providing these survivors with all the resources they may need, Vivian strives to encourage and support them through an incredibly vulnerable time. We asked her to share a little bit about her journey and why she continues to fight for Freedom alongside our organization.
Human Trafficking: A Survivor’s Story
Tell us a little about your background. How did you become involved with Freedom?
I was trafficked at age 8 by family members, and by 15 I was sent to a brothel here in Columbus. They took my innocence away at a very young age. Six years ago, I entered CATCH Court, where I met the ladies at Freedom a la Cart. I became Freedom’s first employee and I wear a lot of different hats – I visit the ladies in jail and bring them whites, drive them to rehab, coordinate transportation and donations, cook, clean, and speak publicly about human trafficking, educating our community.
What was your mindset when you first joined Freedom a la Cart?
In CATCH, I was unsure and scared. I didn’t know how to live on life’s terms. The CATCH program rescued me, held me accountable, and saved my life. It gave me something to look forward to; Judge Herbert gave me the initiative and will to keep coming back. He gave unconditional love, the will to live and survive, and let me know that someone wanted and cared enough about me to live. When DOMA and Freedom a la Cart came into the picture, they were angels. The volunteers and mentors showed that they support and love us. I started to learn how to laugh.
How has Freedom a la Cart helped you?
CATCH rescued me and restored me, but Freedom keeps me focused and a productive member of society. They give me hope, serenity, willpower, strength, and unconditional love. Being involved with Freedom keeps me accountable and teaches me new skills.
What kind of skills have you learned?
I’m learning how to mean what you say and follow through with it. Freedom taught me to have a work ethic and life skills, but I also learned about empowering women and real women’s issues. These are real women I can talk to who are professionals and teach me to be strong and never give up. I’ve learned that you can trust people, and it’s ok to fall down but get back on the horse, and disappointing someone doesn’t mean they’ll abandon you. These women are independent, strong and survive on their own without a man. They don’t need to depend on a man to live, and that was my hardest lesson to learn. I can’t say enough about CATCH and Freedom.
What has been your favorite experience with Freedom a la Cart?
We laugh so hard sometimes. We cry. My favorite of all is when I was gone for 10 days. I missed these people and my job so much, it’s unconditional. I came back and it’s the first time I came back and nobody had left. I trust them with all my heart.
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?
All trafficking does not involve drugs. Prostitution is a form of trafficking, and girls don’t grow up wanting to be a prostitute. Sex abuse can be a form of human trafficking, and it happens every day.
What can people do to help end human trafficking and help survivors?
Keep talking about it. Awareness is so important. Arresting the johns that are picking up the prostitutes, and keeping men aware and giving them help.
Vivian never ceases to amaze us in all that she’s accomplished. When we hear her talk about her relationship with us, we can’t help but feel the same way about her. Hope, serenity, willpower, strength, and unconditional love: these same factors are what fuel us to keep going, to keep fighting for what we believe in.
What’s most difficult about understanding Vivian’s past is knowing that she is not alone in the pain she’s had to endure, and this is exactly why we strive to make a difference in as many survivors’ lives as we can.
As we find ourselves surrounded by a growing number of empowered women, we can’t help but feel a bit stronger in our mission, too.
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