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Survivor Perspectives on the Role of Health and Human Service Systems

Published: March 29, 2016

Ms. Kelly Cody's remarks to the HHS Tack Force to Prevent and End Human Trafficking on March 29, 2016

Good afternoon, my name is Kelly Cody and I have been given the honor and privilege to share with you today. Before I reflect on where I have come from to where I am now, I want to thank every organization in participation for making human trafficking a priority. Thank you.

Childhood for me began with homelessness, domestic violence, child abuse to include sexual abuse, and foster homes. By the time I was a teenager I had reunified with my mother, my father passed away, and my mother remarried. I cannot recall at any point ever being told or taught that my family life or experience was abnormal. I had no understanding of the abnormality of my situation and a therapeutic intervention could have played a significant role in the trajectory of my future decisions.

During my teenage years I ran away from home and right into the hands of a trafficker. I met a man while I was walking down the street who told me about a “perfect world.” A world that could offer my every want and desire. I was fifteen what did I want and desire? The one thing I did want was to be loved however what did I know about love? I was taught that love was a punch, a kick, a harsh word, a put down, sexual contact, and a man’s control over a woman. I fit the very mold that this man was seeking to add to his collection of teen girls who worked for him. I was one of many teenagers in "the life." This life consisted of beatings, manipulation, threats, fear, lies, sexual assaults, dependence, and control and started to blend right into what I already thought was normal and defined as love. I began using alcohol to numb what was happening to me, while I watched other girls use other drugs.  I became anorexic to have some control in my life.  I became a victim of child sex trafficking.

Eventually I escaped after a severe beating with a shot gun, a broken nose, a scalp laceration, and second degree burns on my body. I can recall on two occasions being taken to a family planning clinic, one in Arizona and another in California where I wanted to say something however I was muted by the trafficker who stood by as if he were my concerned boyfriend. What could I have said anyway? I felt like this was all my fault and the feelings of shame, fear, and survival over shadowed my cry for help. I was treated and sent on my way, not even a question was asked about the age difference of my trafficker or of the lie I was forced to tell of being 22 and really only being 15. If the physician would have asked where I graduated high school and the year in which I graduated I would have been stumped to answer. After leaving that situation I became a young adult who ended up in unhealthy relationships that were driven by domestic violence and ended as a result of non-lethal strangulation.

There were times I wanted to end my life and I often thought my life would merely be comprised of hurt and pain. I believed that my experiences were the norm and wondered if being a woman and being a minority raised in oppression meant I was doomed to never experience freedom and feeling safe.

The journey to becoming a survivor has been far from easy. I now know my importance and though a majority of my life was spent living abnormally I finally get to see and feel a taste of freedom, safety, and normalcy. It has taken education and the understanding of my value and worth that has helped me to be an overcomer. I am able to stand before you as a survivor who has earned a dual bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and is a doctoral candidate. I am a single mother of four who gets the opportunity to let my children experience freedom, safety, and normalcy and I get to share this feeling with others who are struggling merely to reach the next day.

I developed a ministry to help those affected by human trafficking, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. This ministry was developed with the continuum of violence in mind. It is my thought and belief that faith also plays a significant role as being a messenger of love, hope, healing, and restoration. Let me give you an example of this ministry in action.

A woman contacted the ministry for assistance and what started out as a woman with a visa needing assistance for domestic violence suddenly became an undocumented woman who had been petitioned into sex trafficking and became a victim of labor trafficking. She was earning $2.38/hr. and often times worked 24 hour shifts. Through education and encouragement her self-worth has increased, the healing process has begun, and with the assistance of the ministry and the National Human Trafficking Hotline, she now is in a safe environment and earning $9/hr.

Survivors play a significant role in the prevention and eradication process. Through our experiences and expertise, programs that are survivor assisted yield a high rate of success and my brother and sister survivors are willing and ready to help. Several of us are part of the Technical Working Group which is creating the HHS SOAR training for health care and social service providers. SOAR stands for Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond to human trafficking.

Though eradication may appear to be a significantly overwhelming task it can be achieved just as the highest mountain was once seen as an impossible feat.  Mount Everest is reported as the highest mountain in the world. Many have tried to climb this mountain and have lost their lives. In 1953 two men, Hillary and Tenzing, attempted the journey and skillfully conquered it. They made it through the freezing weather, cliffs, deep crevasses, mountain sickness, hypoxia, severe headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue, delusions, clouded thinking, and the possibility of falling into a coma. The journey to end and prevent human  trafficking may appear to be as challenging however as we stand at the bottom of the mountain looking up keep in mind that Hillary and Tenzing were not the only two people to accomplish the climb, they were just the first.

All of the agencies represented here possess the means to be the support, intervention, and hope that victims need. Many of your organizations are the only contact a victim or vulnerable person may have to end or prevent this traumatic experience.

Over time our understanding on topics like sexual assault, domestic violence, and even human trafficking, have increased. We now understand that family issues and what was once thought to be an international issue, are being looked at as community issues, state issues, and national crises. We are the needed piece to help victims to transition into survivors. The needed piece to help prevent and bring an end to the suffering for those who have fallen prey. We are the intervention needed for the vulnerable populations that have no idea they are vulnerable.

Again, I thank all of you for establishing this Task Force. A lot of people are counting on you. Thank you for seeing me and not just hearing me, and allowing me to share the non-visible parts of me.

Thank you.

Last Reviewed: February 22, 2017
Archived: February 14, 2019

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