A Survivor’s Story

By | Profiles

Sarah was a quintessentially normal teenager. Smart and caring with a sunny personality, she grew up in a loving home in a safe San Diego neighborhood, dreaming of someday becoming a doctor. Everything changed, however, when at 16 an older man she considered her “boyfriend” trafficked her into San Diego’s underground sex industry.

For the next seven years, Sarah was forced to live a life as sexual property. She finally managed to escape her traffickers at the age of 23, making her way to a rare local recovery program, GenerateHope. In this safe environment Sarah breezed through her GED exams and prepared to enroll in community college, but faced one more challenge that followed her from her past: a criminal record.

Survivors like Sarah face numerous roadblocks and barriers that impede their ability to obtain employment and enroll in technical and career training programs. Trafficked individuals often do not identify as victims, may lack families, and may not have developed support systems outside of the people connected to their trafficking.

Survivors may also face significant physical and mental health concerns as a result of their experiences. Once someone is no longer being victimized by human trafficking, the harm should stop, but it continues.

With little or no work experience outside of being trafficked, as well as limited access to education, financial security is often a dream instead of a goal. For survivors to become thriving members of society, healing must be combined with envisioning new life paths.

Free to Thrive operates San Diego’s first program offering comprehensive legal services to clear the way for survivors to qualify for career and educational opportunities. Operating in collaboration with law firms, law students, academics, social service providers, law enforcement, and government agencies, the Free to Thrive Legal Clinic is designed to serve as an innovative model for pro bono legal services throughout the United States, while supporting survivors on their path to success.

According to a groundbreaking 2015 research study by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University, an estimated 1,766 sex trafficking victims each year have contact with San Diego law enforcement, and this is estimated to be only 20% of the total sex trafficking victim population in San Diego. The Free to Thrive Legal Clinic strives to identify and assist as many of those victims as possible and empower them to live meaningful, rewarding lives free of fear and oppression.