Economic Empowerment at The Avery Center
Survivors of sex trafficking in America and across the world are often victims of financial abuse. Exploiters often target individuals who have low socioeconomic status and few social safety nets. We know that one of the contributing factors of sex trafficking victimization is poverty and financial insecurity. Additionally, a barrier to exiting and maintaining a life free from exploitation is continued economic marginalization due to criminal charges (Henderson & Rhodes, 2021), lack of social and human capital, mental health disabilities stemming from the impacts of complex trauma, and stigmatization of survivors of gender-based violence through societal victim-blaming.
Many impact-focused models have recognized the economic disparities that survivors face. Programs exist in various cities that seek to address the unique needs of this population and assist in practical skill-building, resume writing, and career development. Many of these job programs have started with the assumption that survivors need to start their workplace journeys from entry-level positions, learning menial skills that often require manual labor.
In the last couple of decades, many organizations have started from this space of limited understanding, including Thistle Farms, Sari Bari, Rethreaded, Able, and others. However, as these organizations have evaluated and iterated their programing, the sheer resilience, diverse capabilities, and determination of survivors in programing have caused these organizations to consider more nuanced ways of providing social and economic support to survivors via more sophisticated job programming. Rethreaded's job program offers a great example of adaptive leadership in the evolution of its job program. Employees of Rethreaded were once limited to creating products to sell. Over time, Rethreaded has mentored survivors in many career paths, including marketing, business development, logistics, sales, and accounting.
The hosting organization of my SIE internship, The Avery Center, is a survivor-led, survivor-centered, and survivor-informed organization. Utilizing the voices and experiences of people with lived experience is a guiding principle of this non-profit. Human-centered design can be observed in all aspects of their programming. While The Avery Center has multiple programs, they fall into two categories: research and services. On the service side of the organization, two economic empowerment programs are continuously evolving to better support survivors. Their job program has expanded during the pandemic and now offers remote positions across the country. Based on their skill level when entering the program, survivors can choose to work in entry-level positions or begin working in marketing, research, and virtual executive assisting. Additionally, their co-founder published the only workbook to address the financial literacy needs of sex trafficking survivors. The Survivors Guide to Money is available to all job program participants at no cost to them.
The Avery Center is currently strategizing about expanding opportunities for the survivors in their programming and offering more positions. As part of the expansion, I am designing a professional development fellowship to help survivors enter into the field of research. The two co-founders of The Avery Center both have graduate degrees in sociology and actively engage in cutting-edge sex trafficking research. They are both passionate about sharing their knowledge and teaching the next generation of researchers. By hosting an annual summer fellowship for survivors, more individuals with lived experience can influence academic, non-governmental, and governmental research that impacts policies that affect both victims and survivors.
Henderson, A., & Rhodes, S. (2021). “I got sold a dream and it turned into a nightmare”: The victim-offender overlap in commercial sexual exploitation.” Forthcoming in The Journal of Human Trafficking.