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Survivors Take the Wheel:
Sacramento's newly formed Survivors Network helps survivors take control.
A group of survivors participates in a fill in the blank exercise. As their pens hover over the sentence, “Let your ___ be bigger than your fears,” they ponder the dreams and beliefs that mean more to them than their deepest fears. Ricardo, the group leader, prompts them, “Every time you don’t feel good, you look at the word in the line, and say, this is bigger than the problem in front of me.” For survivors, this blank space holds promise and hope for their future.
Motivational exercises such as these play an important role in Survivors Network meetings, where therapeutic activities bring survivors of trafficking together for community healing. “To be able to talk about emotions and […] do crafts brings a lot of motivation [to members],” Maria, a group leader, says. “[T]hese meetings open up a new world for survivors."
Survivors as Leaders
Founded earlier this year by Elisabet Medina as a project of the Rescue and Restore Coalition, the network is the first of its kind to connect and empower survivors of human trafficking in Sacramento. “The Survivors Network is a safe place for survivors to share their experiences and find the support and resources they need,” Elisabet says.
Entirely survivor-run, the Sacramento network embodies Elisabet’s faith in “putting [survivors] in the driver’s seat” of their healing process. Survivors Ricardo, Maria, and Jennifer facilitate separate groups for men and women, but collaborate with each other monthly to brainstorm topics, coordinate resources, and schedule guest speakers. “[T]his was intentional,” Elisabet says of the leadership. “If survivors are not leaders from Day 1, [the network] becomes just another program.”
The leaders’ own experiences with trafficking enable them to approach issues with understanding, honesty, and respect. Jennifer emphasizes the importance of democratic, open dialogue when discussing sensitive topics. “[A leader should] be impartial,” Jennifer says of a successful meeting. “[That way] everybody has a chance to speak, and together we can look for answers.”
Building Connections and Community
The supportive relationships forged within the network deliver hope and strength to survivors who often lack family or friends to confide in. “Traffickers target people who are isolated and intentionally isolate them further so that they stay in that situation,” Elisabet says. “Rather than isolate, the network seeks to connect people.”
Within this cooperative atmosphere, members actively help each other find jobs, sign up for ESL classes, complete a GED, and access other opportunities within the community. These developments help survivors grow beyond their experiences. “My goals are to understand each of the women and together […] pursue education and be able to prosper in this country,” Maria says.
By connecting survivors with each other and the larger community, the Survivors Network extends the healing process beyond Opening Doors’ services. For Ricardo, the network continues to inspire hope and personal growth. “If I had not met Opening Doors, I would probably be dead,” Ricardo says. “By joining the network, I have the ability to do what I did before I was a victim, which is meet people and be active in the community.”
A Bright Future
In particular, the Survivors Network empowers members to serve the family, friends, and community around them. “Opening Doors has done so much for me that the only thing I can do is give back to the people that, like me, were abused and need support,” Ricardo says of his decision to serve as a leader. “I do my best to support not only the members but [also] family needs.”
Richardo hopes to grow the network to reach out to other survivors in need. Jennifer feels hopeful about what the network has in store. “I believe that united, we can conquer anything,” she says.
The Survivors Network is a unique opportunity for survivors to reconnect, heal, and become community leaders. Essential programs such as this one would not be possible without support from community members like you. Please consider donating to the Survivors Network. Donations will help us provide materials for the meeting, transportation assistance so survivors can attend meetings, guest speakers, and opportunities for survivors to attend conferences. Your gift will connect survivors to a supportive community, and help them become leaders.
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