In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and because we appreciate our volunteers all year long, we wanted to share the story of one of our amazing volunteers. All of our volunteers are incredible, but Alice’s story is quite remarkable. We hope that her willingness to share will inspire others to speak out and tell their story, and if they haven’t yet, reach out for help. Alice describes the experience that led her to volunteer with Safe Harbor and why she finds volunteering both validating and healing.

Her story is real, and we hope that it gives you a glimpse of the courage and strength of our survivors.

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Safe Harbor volunteers gather from many different walks of life, and for different reasons. Some are interested in healing others, others are interested in healing themselves. And for some, it’s both.

Alice*, a twenty-six year old Safe Harbor volunteer and member of the Speaker’s Bureau, knows first-hand the importance of healing. It is easy for a closely-knit community like Richmond to turn the other direction when thinking of the prevalence of human trafficking, but awareness is growing through programs like Safe Harbor. “And I think that my experience can help Safe Harbor with educating the community,” Alice said, smiling. She wants to “grow” with Safe Harbor, “stronger together while supporting others.”

“I was sexually abused, beginning at the age of five,” Alice disclosed during our recent meet-up at Saison Market, downtown. “And I was raped for the first time when I was twelve.” Growing up with a sister who has cerebral palsy, Alice held responsibilities that were abnormal for a young child. “I felt a strong disconnect from my family,” she admitted. “And then, at thirteen, I was threatened into human trafficking.”

“Trauma puts you in a place where your chances of re-victimization are higher,” Alice explained. “For some reason, survivors seem to have an aura which attracts predators.” According to Alice, victims of human trafficking tend to come from rough backgrounds similar to hers, but also from foster homes and homeless families. “The going rate was around 10,000 dollars and allowed the buyer of the girl rights to any sort of actions – including termination of life.” The fear of losing her own life, or having her family members hurt or killed, prevented her from leaving her abusers.

Alice also explained a secondary hell she experienced as a result of the human trafficking. “Many times, victims of human trafficking are given drugs as a means of keeping them in line,” and she admitted she was not exempt.

After four years of survival in the world of human trafficking, Alice was released. “During a trip out of state, we were at an airport. My keeper (a guard in the trafficking business) had a moment of compassion. He let me go. But even then, where could I go?” Alice for hid for weeks before she attempted to go back home so that they wouldn’t find her and force her to continue.

Alice shared that it took seven years of committed recovery to work through the impact of what had happened to her, and that she still works hard every day to keep healthy and positive. She attended specialized counseling sessions for quite some time. Once she felt she was in a place to help others, Safe Harbor was the place for Alice to kick-start her activism. “They provide the services they say they will – they live up to expectations from the community,” Alice told me. “They have also given me a safe outlet to talk about my story while serving other survivors through the Speaker’s Bureau. Safe Harbor validates your abilities!”

Today, Alice is looking forward to finishing her Masters of Clinical Psychology, and getting married to the love of her life this fall. While she admits some days are tougher than others, she has a wonderful support system and is practicing positivity. “It’s weird to say it was worth it, but I truly believe everything happens for a reason. And being a Safe Harbor volunteer is incredibly reaffirming for me.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, Safe Harbor may be the connection to get help and support. If you’d like to volunteer to help survivors of sexual or domestic violence, Safe Harbor may be the place for you. Please go to our website to learn more about our volunteer opportunities: http://safeharborshelter.com/volunteer/information/

*Names have been changed to protect the individual who is sharing her story