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Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder of BTFF

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Demand Change in the Heartland

It is with great pleasure that I was able to travel to Kansas City, Missouri in October to not only conduct Violence Prevention Workshops, but to attend the Demand Change in the Heartland Conference. The conference was hosted by Veronica's Voice and featured a survivor only led panel. This amazing panel of determined, courageous, inspiring and spirited group of fighters not only shared their stories, but more importantly focused on the hurdles that victims and survivors face on the road to recovery and to lead thriving lives.

Veronica's Voice's, Demand Change Conference truly amazed me in so many ways that I don't think I can even share enough with you.  I was immediately awoken from my early morning daze and incredibly proud of the power of change that begun to kick off in the early morning on a a Saturday in America's Heartland -and my hometown.  Hometown pride has a whole new meaning now...as does the true unbreakable spirit of a Midwestern girl -no one can hold a flame to the ladies that sought to bring this house down!

As an organization that is newer and who's mission is to bring those victimized by modern slaver from a point of surviving to thriving, I personally and professionally see survivor informed services as the only way forward.  Bridge to Freedom Foundation is about the future not the past, and while we may hear many survivor stories along the way we let the survivor lead and never ask, "what happened", therefore this conference held a great deal of meaning for us and sought to ensure we continue to learn and grow from the survivor community.  BTFF strives to ensure we never forget who it is we work for and why.  Kristy Childs Founder and Director of Veronica's Voice, ut it best; "Let survivors share their story and what they want to share. Be mindful, have compassion without the details. That is dignity!.  Childs also added, "...when we see some as worthy victims an others as unworthy, we are causing great harm."

One of the day's key topics was the re-victimization of victims and the labeling placed on them, including that treating and arresting as criminals and using victimizing words such as "prostitute".  "Prostitution is an extension of slavery" added Vednita Carter of Breaking Free.  Many survivors have criminal records, including felonies following arrests for prostitution charges and vacating such crimes is not easy nor possible in call states.   Tina Frundt, Founder and Executive Director of Courtney's House broke down the harsh realities of labeling and the continual harm it causes as she spoke with unfiltered dynamism; "...what now at 20...22...I'm worth nothing because you didn't help me at 9?"

The harsh reality so many do not want to face or turn a blind eye to was not swept under the rug and even if you wanted to turn a blind eye you were too paralyzed to do so as the rooms power, inspiration, passion and leadership took you in and the heartfelt and intimate stories of the survivors took hold of you.

Brenda Myers-Powell , Founder of the Dream Catcher Foundation, spoke about her journey with a vibrancy and yet painstakingly sharp honesty that one so rarely hears on any stage; This was "...not something I got into it was something I was almost born into... All I waned to do was be shinny, but the shine kept getting taken away from me teach time I was molested."   Myers-Powell was not alone on this stage sharing often painful intimate details of their path from victim, survivor to a empowered thriving woman, and all of these remarkable leaders filled the room with the loudest voices of truth one can find.  Christine McDonald, who's book "Cry Purple", is one of the most heartwarming stories of courage, survival and triumph; showed that innocence does not have to be lost as she infected the room with her contagiously sweet laugh in the midst of telling stories that would have broke so many before they began.

The event put forward so many valuable lessons in a frank and feasible manner, that makes one question why we have not been talking like this (or listening) and resolving these issues all along.  Survivor informed and led services are key to breaking the cycle and ensuring that those abused by the chains of human trafficking are enabled to lead thriving lives with dignity.  "We need to be more than well- intended, we must be intentional!" stated, Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm.  Intention to see one thrive and lead their own journey requires many steps and all must be informed, as Rowena Mathews, Alumni Member of Breaking Free stated; "We need a lot of little things before we are able to walk on our own."

 The event even hosted a powerful dance performance;  "The Game" by Erin Murphy, featuring the words and stories of survivors from Veronica's Voice.  Like the performance this conference was truly a one of a kind inspirational event that drives you to act in an intentional and sustainable manner with the survivors needs at the center of it all.

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