About this project
Survivor Stories was launched to coincide with the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (March 2013), where the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls was discussed. The campaign features 18 first hand narratives from survivors of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation from 12 countries around the world. The campaign provides a forum for survivors to shape the conversation and be a part of the solution, and provides readers with related actions they can take to support the anti-trafficking and exploitation movement.
Equality Now, in partnership with survivors and grassroots organizations, has been combatting sex trafficking and exploitation for more than 20 years. We are committed to reducing the demand for commercial sex by advancing policies that criminalize buyers of sex, while decriminalizing those who are sold for sex and providing them with support services. This approach, the Nordic Model, has been proven effective in curbing sex trafficking and is gaining policy consideration by governments around the world.
All stories have been edited for length and clarity and certain stories were translated from the survivor’s original language. Where applicable, pseudonyms have been used to protect the survivor’s privacy.
Download Survivor Stories as a pdf (5MB)
Partners & Countries
AFESIP Cambodia works to care for and secure the rights of those victimized by human trafficking and sex slavery and to successfully rehabilitate and reintegrate survivors into mainstream society through financial independence, in a sustainable and innovative manner. They also combat the causes and consequences of trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation through outreach work in HIV/ AIDS prevention, advocacy work, campaigning, and representation and participation in women’s issues at national, regional and international forums.
Apne Aap, India
Apne Aap was founded in 2002 by 22 women from Mumbai’s red light district who envisioned a world where no woman could be bought or sold. Through their community centers and self-empowerment groups across the country, women and girls can safely gather, access education, improve their livelihood options and receive legal rights training. Apne Aap helps marginalized women and girls work collectively to lift themselves out of the sex industry and to advocate for policy change to stem the demand for purchased sex.
Buklod Center was established in 1987 as a drop-in center for prostituted and trafficked women outside the former U.S. Subic Naval Base in Olongapo. Buklod has Organizing, Education, Livelihood and Advocacy Networking programs for prostituted women.
ChildVoice International, Uganda
ChildVoice International is a non-profit organization seeking to restore the voices of children silenced by war by raising awareness, promoting research, and facilitating effective, sustainable interventions. ChildVoice operates a comprehensive program in Northern Uganda, including a rehabilitation center for formerly abducted girls and their children, a primary school and a health center.
EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating) is a volunteer, non-governmental, non-profit organization founded in 2009. The organization is composed of former sex-industry women dedicated to seeing prostitution recognized as violence against women and calling for its abolition through political action, advocacy, and awareness raising that focuses on ending the demand for paid sexual access to women and children's bodies. EVE operates under a feminist model, acknowledging that prostitution is born out of sexism, classism, racism, poverty and other forms of systemic oppression.
Freedom from Sexual Exploitation, New Zealand
Founded in 2012, Freedom from Sexual Exploitation is a group of New Zealanders committed to seeing change in the areas of prostitution and the trafficking of women and children for sex in New Zealand. The organization petitions parliament to follow the Nordic Model (also known as the Swedish Model), and carries out awareness-raising, advocacy and campaigning work, together with women currently and formerly in prostitution.
Gateways is a Jewish Child Care Association (JCCA) intensive residential treatment program for girls who have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. Gateways uses a strengths-based youth development model to help them recognize their trauma, rebuild their self-esteem and assist them in gaining the skills needed to return to the community as productive, independent young adults.
The Klaipeda Social and Psychological Services Center has preventive, rehabilitation and reintegration programs for victims of trafficking, domestic violence and sexual exploitation. They also provide shelter, a hotline and other support services.
The New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition is a group of organizations that have joined forces to increase public awareness of human trafficking in our communities, enact anti-trafficking laws, improve law enforcement response and increase social services to help women and girls escape trafficking. New York is a leading entry, transit and destination point for trafficking victims. The New York Anti-Trafficking Coalition helped drive the passage of two momentous laws in New York State: The New York Anti-Trafficking Law and the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act
Project Respect, Australia
Project Respect is an Australian non-profit, feminist, community-based organization that works to empower and support women in the sex industry, including women trafficked to Australia. It is made up of a diverse team who believe that all women matter, and includes women who have been, or still are involved in the sex industry, in positions throughout the organization.
Beginning in 1998, Project Respect has offered specialist, non-judgmental outreach and individual support to women in the sex industry across the state of Victoria. Project Respect provides women with intensive case management, emergency accommodation, and support for education and alternative employment opportunities. In addition to providing direct services, Project Respect engages in advocacy and public education efforts, and collaborates closely with partners in countries where many women are trafficked from, particularly in the Asia Pacific region. It offers training to health care workers, women's groups, law enforcement and others who may come into contact with women in the sex industry and trafficking victims.
Rebecca, United Kingdom/Sex Trafficking Survivors United, Global
Rebecca is a survivor-activist, blogger and campaigner. She was exploited in the prostitution industry in the UK for 13 years and now campaigns to help protect other women and girls from experiencing the trauma she herself suffered. She is a founding member of Sex Trafficking Survivors United (STSU), an international survivor-led organization made up of women and men who have experienced sexual exploitation. STSU has more than 177 members worldwide and campaigns for the Nordic Model, which criminalizes the demand side of prostitution while decriminalizing and providing support for people in prostitution.
Stigamot is an NGO run by a collective of women, some of whom are survivors of gender-based violence. Stigamot advocates for women’s rights and for victims of sexual violence, and provides counseling and support to victim of sexual and physical violence.
Stop Demand, New Zealand
Stop Demand was founded in New Zealand in 2003 to identify, challenge and seek a shift in the attitudes and beliefs that underpin and sustain all forms of sexual violence, sexual exploitation and sexual denigration of women and children.
With regard to the sex trade (prostitution, pornography, sex trafficking), Stop Demand focuses on the male demand that drives the global supply of women and children and encourages governments to combat the harms within prostitution by adopting the Nordic Model.
SOLWODI, Kenya, Germany, Romania & Austria
SOLidarity with WOmen in DIstress (SOLWODI) was founded in 1985 by Sister Doctor Lea Ackerman. The non-partisan and non-denominational association helps women and girls in Kenya, Germany, Romania and Austria who are victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, sexual violence, domestic violence and/or forced marriage, and supports a project in Rwanda helping widows and orphans. Through its network of counseling centers and organizations, SOLWODI provides holistic psychosocial care and counseling, shelter, legal intervention and medical assistance, integration assistance as well as support in returning foreign women and girls to their home countries.
Equality Now’s Survivor Stories series was created in partnership with survivors and organizations from around the world to explore the experiences of women and girls in the commercial sex industry – individuals’ transitions from victim to survivor to, in many cases, activist – and how existing systems, including legal frameworks, helped or harmed the survivor. The series strove to be a safe forum for survivors to share their experiences, shape the conversation among the public and policymakers, and guide readers towards actions they could take to support efforts against sexual exploitation and trafficking.
With our partners and survivor activists, we mobilized and focused international attention on the critical need for policymakers, NGOs and the wider public to listen to and learn from the experiences of survivors, and called on lawmakers and top officials to ensure that victims are adequately supported, while those fueling trafficking and exploitation are held accountable.
We are so grateful to the many courageous, outspoken survivors who generously shared their time and expertise with us, and to our fantastic partners who work together with survivors to end sex trafficking and exploitation around the world.
Thank you for listening and taking action,
- Equality Now & our partners
Equality Now would also like to thank Suzanna Finley for the use of her photography, and Deena Guzder for her editorial assistance.
#ListenToSurvivors – Highlights
Survivor Stories has helped draw international attention to the experiences, needs and demands of women who have experienced prostitution and trafficking, and has highlighted the work of grassroots organizations carrying out important work on the ground to assist women and girls involved in the commercial sex industry.
In New York, with Ruth, Janelle, Lowyal and Veronica, we advocated for reforms to the state anti-trafficking law. On 22 June 2013 the legislature passed a bill ensuring that 16 and 17-year-old victims arrested for prostitution will be classified as trafficking victims, instead of as criminals, allowing them to access services rather than being sent to prison.
In Canada, with survivor activist Trisha and other partners, we called on the Canadian government to introduce a strong law that addresses the demand for prostitution that fuels sex trafficking. On 4 June 2014, the Canadian government proposed a law that would address demand for the first time, and would provide C$20 million for services for people exploited in the commercial sex industry. Equality Now, Trisha and our partners continue work to ensure that the law fully decriminalizes women in prostitution.
At the global level, with survivors around the world, we have called on United Nations agencies to listen to survivors, uphold international law, and ensure that HIV prevention efforts do not jeopardize anti-trafficking and gender equality efforts. Survivors and supporters sent thousands of letters, and in response, UNAIDS clarified that it does not support the decriminalization of pimping or brothel-keeping.
From Our Partners
“By connecting with other survivors I was no longer alone with the shame and darkness, which seemed like a cross I would have to bear. The effects of being bought and sold are of an insidious nature, which I did not know how to make sense of; it was only by connecting with other survivors that I began to understand what happened to me.” - Jennifer Kay, Sex Trafficking Survivors United
“I am very happy that my story was launched and that many people can read it…Survivor leadership is very important; in advocacy and campaigning on issues of trafficking and prostitution. If the leader is a survivor, this has a big impact on the community and people, especially speaking about these issues. The survivor stories project has helped us advocate in our campaign to end the buying of women and children. Here in Buklod, survivors are educating male students about trafficking and prostitution; the students listen to these women share their stories.” - Alma Bulawan, Buklod Center
“The world has started listening to sex trafficking/prostitution survivors. We are in the midst of a fast-growing survivor movement. It started with indigenous women speaking out about the terrible effects of sexual exploitation on their communities. A mighty wave is rising, the wave of survivor voices. Nothing can stop it…But precious few survivors are leading anti-trafficking NGOs at the national or international level. None that I am aware of have received government or UN appointments…If we are to progress, the movement must follow the lead of survivors and indigenous women, the ones who are most affected by the violence of commercial sexual exploitation.” - Holly Sorensen, Sex Trafficking Survivors United
“As a counsellor working for many years with survivors of trafficking for sexual exploitation, I realize more and more how difficult it is for them to talk about their experience. They´d rather forget, leave the past behind and try to move on to a better future. The majority of them feel ashamed to talk about the work they were forced into. Many still feel humiliated. That´s why we hardly hear their voices, which tend to get lost in the cacophony of voices coming from the loud sex worker lobbies. And who speaks louder often has the best chance to get heard. Therefore, I welcome [Survivor Stories] as a courageous action of human justice, as a strong reminder to stop talking about victims of sex trafficking without wanting to take the time to listen to them.” - Beatrice Mariotti, Solwodi Berlin office
“Survivors have insight to the operations of the sex trade and [know that] age of consent laws don't stop us from being used and abused by the sex trade.” - Nick Al Khadra, Sex Trafficking Survivors United
Funding for this campaign generously provided by:
The Book Club - based in Los Angeles, this club of seven women is dedicated to creating a kinder more equitable world.
Chime for Change - a global campaign, founded by Gucci, to "promote Education, Health and Justice for every girl, every woman, everywhere," through the raising of funds and awareness for girls' and women's empowerment.
Catapult - a crowdfunding platform dedicated to equality.
Does Legalizing Prostitution Protect Women and Girls? Findings from countries and states where prostitution is legal
Published: December 2012. (Updated June 2016) Format: pdf, 77.86KB. 3 pages.
Global Sex Trafficking Fact Sheet [link to: https://www.equalitynow.org/content/global-sex-trafficking]
Published: August 2011. (Updated August 2017) Format: pdf, 224KB. 2 pages.
"Why the game’s up for Sweden's sex trade" Sweden's innovative sex-trade laws criminalise clients, not prostitutes. The result: a 70 per cent drop in business. The Independent, March 2013, Joan Smith
"Global Sex Trafficking & the Guy Next Door - The Need To End Demand". Huffington Post, January 2013, Lauren Hersh, New York Office Director, Equality Now
"New research shows violence decreases under Nordic model: Why the radio silence?". Feminist Current, January 2013, Samantha Berg
"Government under pressure to review prostitution laws in England and Wales". The Guardian, December 2012, Jacqui Hunt, London Office Director, Equality Now
"Ending Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: The Global Movement Towards Gender Equality". Huffington Post UK, December 2012, Jacqui Hunt, London Office Director, Equality Now.
Survivors Connect Network. A composite of writings and referrals to blog posts written by survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking
Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself. Rachel Lloyd, Founder, GEMS: Girls Educational & Mentoring Services
Sex & World Peace. Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli & Chad F. Emmett