When I was five, I’d attempt to sneak spoonfuls of butter from the fridge, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice (a habit I never quite left behind). When they inevitably did notice weird shapes in the butter sticks and half of it missing, they would ask me If I had anything to do with it. Trying to conceal the truth felt impossible. I’d giggle or cry, unable to stop myself from giving it away. However, as I got older and did the same thing, I learned how to make it look normal, how to scoff if asked, how to conceal the truth. We all know how to hide things that we think will get us in trouble, will make us look bad or will ostracize us over time.
When I was 27, I started working in financial services. I was hired as a temporary worker and assumed it would be a short-term position. The job wasn’t ever what I thought I would do with my life and that it wasn’t a place I thought I could ever fit in. When I was offered a full-time position after a few months, I was excited for the opportunity as I had grown to enjoy it but simultaneously felt scared because they ran extensive background checks, and I had a criminal record. I had to have a painful conversation with the hiring manager about my record and why it existed. Luckily, I’d already worked with her for a few months, and she liked that experience.
I found that I liked the work, and I loved the stability. I got a real paycheck, health benefits, and I had the opportunity to grow within the company. I worked hard and found myself changing roles, growing my skillset and expertise while unexpectedly building some incredible friendships. Alongside the growth came an overwhelming amount of fear of colleagues finding out about me, the ‘other’ me. The hiring manager was the only person I ever had to explain my background to. She was the only one who knew about my conviction. However, not even she knew that I had spent a month in jail, that I had a heroin addiction leading up to that conviction, that I had been sex trafficked, or that I was fighting my way through life largely on my own. At certain points, I would tell the people who had become my friends about some or maybe all of those facts, but I did so while holding fear of who they might tell, how it could change the way they saw me and how those facts may negatively impact my career.
Five years into my time there, I felt like something was unraveling. I enjoyed the work less, felt more stressed and disconnected, and didn’t care what direction my career took. As the unraveling was happening, I got a call from my friend in the UK whom I had met when I started volunteering in the anti-trafficking space five years before. She asked if I’d come consult with her before launching her NGO focused on creating a global alliance of survivors of modern slavery. I agreed, not knowing how much it would shift my life.
I consulted for a week and came back to New York knowing that the amount of concealment I was managing in my job was taking a toll and was growing heavier every day I stayed in it. That weight was an awakening that it was time to make some serious changes in my life.
Our five-year-old selves giggling and crying to attempt to keep the truth from coming out knew something that we, as adults, often run from– hiding truths we think will get us in trouble, while understandable, isn’t worth the complications it brings. Hiding the truth never makes us feel free nor does it make us closer to the people we’re hiding from.
Being able to show up to work fully embodied is a personal preference. Knowing I wanted that every day is why I now choose to work in the anti-slavery field, and it shapes what I do within it. My life experience means that I’m acutely aware that what is at stake in this space is more than what’s trending on social media – it is about sustainable, lifelong freedom, which is by no means easy or swift. Sustainable freedom requires that we all confront our systems and privilege to make space for a more equitable world. It requires that we elevate more survivors into positions of power to create the changes we need to see to end modern slavery more quickly and effectively. It requires that we create access for survivors to education, job training, and job placement in the ways it was given to us.
I left my job in financial services and started working at Survivor Alliance, where I got a taste of the life I wanted, one spent in truth. I was able to show up as myself, working towards the change I hoped to see in the world, and cherished that my experiences gave me perspective others may not have.
I came to the Freedom Fund as Director of North America a few months ago to develop deeper relationships with new and existing partners and to expand others’ knowledge of our work. I get to talk about work that I wish I could see more of within this space. The work of listening to and investing in survivors, communities and frontline organizations to create the most effective and lasting change. The work of challenging ourselves in our offices to be better for one another and our partners. The work of creating greater equity and justice for others like me, with lived experience of trafficking, in the world and within our own organizations.
My journey to the Freedom Fund surprised me at many points and is something I feel grateful for every day. Grateful that I can participate in work and relationships without fear of being myself, even my five-year-old giggling joyous self. Grateful that I get to work towards supporting individuals around the world in their journey to joy and freedom. Mostly, I am grateful for the community of us working to end modern slavery and know that we can achieve the change we need to see in the world if we do so collectively and in truth.