Our team at Starfish Project are so excited to partner with Rebecca Bender. After escaping nearly six years of sex trafficking in the USA, Rebecca has become the definition of a Survivor Leader. Now experiencing freedom, Rebecca dedicates her days to helping others not only escape but to find their purpose and thrive through the Elevate Academy.
Rebecca’s recent series Trafficking Truths is a must see for anyone looking to advocate for survivors. This week we had so much fun chatting with Rebecca. She feels like a long lost sister, who so deeply understands the mission of Starfish Project, to see women not just escape, but become leaders in any field they can dream of!
As a survivor you must remember, we grew up in the same communities as you. We too imagined trafficking as those sensational movie scenes so when our situation wasn't aligning, we think "I must not be being trafficked..."
What do you wish everyone knew about human trafficking?
That trafficking looks really different based on the community and culture in which you live. What it looks like in Thailand is different than Nigeria, than New York City, than Little Rock, Arkansas than Seattle then Sacramento, California. If we continue to only look for the one scenario we're going to miss dozens of other ways that trafficking may exist in your very own community. I also think it is important to remember that trafficking typically happens by someone the victim "knows and trusts." It is rarely stranger danger. Not only do stereotypes hurt the work that advocates have done to change the way America sees sex for sale, but sensationalism continues to fuel misidentification. As a survivor you must remember, we grew up in the same communities as you. We too imagined trafficking as those sensational movie scenes so when our situation wasn't aligning, we think "I must not be being trafficked..." We must talk about the varying recruitment tactics employed by all types of traffickers.
What gives you hope in the human trafficking space?
We have incredible advocates and allies and business owners and professors and social welfare workers and the next gen in school learning about social justice and restorative care models and more! Seeing people step into their passion with purpose and to be solution minded gives me hope. Seeing my survivor sisters and brothers step into their gifting and use their voice for more than their story - that is inspiring and that is true freedom!
How do you cope with the heartbreaking reality of human trafficking that you face daily in your work?
So many things actually! I find a lot of comfort in being a safe space for people to land and to finally be able to have words to what they've been through without judgement or shock but to just be present with them. I have many people who tell me what has happened to them because it can be hard to talk to someone that you don't know if they'll "get it." I'm grateful to be that person to others. I also see so much resilience in those who have overcome and are thriving that it reminds you that there is life after exploitation. I also have been in this field long enough now to see real substantial change and so while it's heartbreaking and there is always more to do, you have to focus on the progress and learn to celebrate the wins like passed bills, a survivor getting their first job, or a scholarship to go to school!
Seeing my survivor sisters and brothers step into their gifting and use their voice for more than their story - that is inspiring and that is true freedom!
What do you love about the Starfish Project?
So many things! I truly believe that survivors of trafficking have talents and gifts that have been left dormant for far too long. What Starfish Project does not only provides tangible job opportunities and experience to move into their future, but it also allows survivors an opportunity to learn what they are good at and what brings them joy! It is providing job opportunities and a way out of the same vulnerabilities that got victims trafficked in the first place. It's providing hope! This is exactly what we do at Elevate Academy - help survivors find their now what. It's such an honor to partner with other like minded groups to empower women to thrive.
What are your favorite Starfish Project picks?
I have always been a hoop girl - every shape, every size, hoops are life so I fell in love with these beautiful Savannah hoops that can be dressed up or down. I also melt over the dainty Harriet necklace. This beautiful set says bold and dainty, classy and fierce, women are using their gifts, they are moving beyond their exploitation - they are more than their story. They are business women, leaders, social entrepreneurs and their past does not have to define them. That is the RB Gift Set.
Rebecca Bender is an inspiration to our Starfish Project team and we are honored to partner with her on this beautiful gift set.