Voices of Survivor Leadership

Written by Brooke Axtell, Dir. of Communications & Survivor Support

Last month, I hosted a Survivor Leader retreat with the Survivor Support Team at Allies Against Slavery. We welcomed ten survivors of human trafficking to an inspiring weekend of creative expression and healing community. Through writing, art, discussions and workshops we explored three primary themes: reclaiming our self-worth, cultivating healthy intimacy and honoring our voices. We also discussed the relationship between living with self-compassion and making a sustainable contribution to the movement to end human trafficking. Each woman shared her gifts, passions, strengths and struggles within this sacred space. It was an honor to bear witness to their healing path. I call them Beautiful Warriors because they are radiant with love and fierce with courage.

In the anti-trafficking movement, I often hear that we need to "be a voice for the voiceless." I disagree. Survivors have their own voices. The question is: Are we willing to listen? So, instead of telling you what I believe to be the ultimate impact and value of our retreat, I asked my sisters if they would share their own experience. Here is what they said.

The retreat brought me down the road further in my healing and connected me to other leaders. I learned that art and education on healing from trauma can be all wrapped up in one medley. The combination was powerful and life-altering. It was a precious gift that has made me more whole as a person. ~ Carol
Thank you for putting this amazing and insightful retreat together for us! I think the most important piece for me was seeing that other people there, too, understood what I went through. Thanks for validating my pain and making it a safe space for us to vent. It was an empowering opportunity to grow and learn from others. ~ Kat
Being with others, discussing our experiences and discussing solutions is extremely important to survivor leaders. It helps us network, learn new techniques and ideas to open our hearts and minds, and gives us another perspective from which to not only help ourselves, but to also help others. I learned that I am not alone and...The physiological explanation of trauma effects on the brain during childhood and the fact that there is the capability of healing gives me hope. Thank you for such wonderful classes and your time and energy. ~ Nancy
What was most impactful about the retreat was being with other survivors in an open, honest space. Learning that we have all walked this journey which is so different yet so similar. Having the aha! moment when someone describes exactly what you have felt, but thought it was unique to you...Learning that this was not a misfortune, but a chance to meet the authentic, strong, resilient me. Talking to people who do not feel sorry, but instead understand me. Knowing that even though I have to walk my own journey, I am not alone and it’s not in any way a wilderness. Through this common experience we have become blessings to each other. ~ Anne
The biggest impact on me during the retreat was connecting with other survivor leaders and witnessing the strength, beauty, warmth and courage of my sisters. This kind of program is important for survivor leaders because the discussion was so open-hearted and open-minded that we could face and resolve deep issues, heal profoundly, and inspire each other to keep going no matter what! I learned that even my deepest pain and highest aspirations can be shared in the very safe and nurturing environment that you and Allies created. And I learned that I am not alone. How did that make me feel? I came away feeling washed, refreshed, energized and empowered to continue my journey, knowing that I journey on in the company of fierce, mighty survivor warrior women. ~ Marti
The thing that really stays with me is how not alone I am. How we are so vastly diverse and find a way of coming together with this common bond. I was healed in some ways and found more work to do on myself in others. Being with people who have experienced some of the harms I have, the hurts I still carry, and belief that we are whole gives me room to grow and more fully embrace all the parts of myself I sometimes hide. ~ Lisa
Allies Against Slavery, Brooke Axtell and the Survivor Support Team did such an excellent job of creating an environment where each of the survivors felt safe to learn, share from our own journeys and receive healing through carefully designed activities, ranging from art therapy to self-affirming writing activities. The retreat was successful in reminding me just how important self-care is to my recovery and to my role in the movement to end human trafficking. We all possess the ability to promote healing and restoration to other trafficking survivors. I left the retreat rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to get back to the task at hand, Trafficking Abolition! I look forward to the next retreat. I can’t wait to again experience the energy felt when a room full of strong, worthy women survivors come together to lift each other up. What a powerful bond of sisterhood! Thank you for all you do Allies. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate knowing I have a wellspring from which to gain courage and wisdom in the future. ~ Charla

Each of these brave women has not only overcome the trauma of human trafficking, they are devoted to sharing their voices to help others heal and find freedom. They are not just survivors. They are leaders, artists and catalysts for social change. 

At Allies Against Slavery, we recognize both the inherent value and unique expertise of those we support. As we continue to develop holistic solutions to human trafficking through the Slave-Free City Network, we invite Survivor Leaders to help guide the way. They are the heartbeat of the movement and must be central to our work for lasting justice. Through our Survivor Leadership Program, we are not only providing support, we are listening to the wisdom of these resilient, brilliant women who are already transforming the world. I hope you will join us.

In Love and Freedom,

Brooke Axtell
Director of Communications + Survivor Support