When someone is first escaping sex trafficking, it can feel difficult and overwhelming to imagine what’s waiting on the other side.

This is especially true for children and minor youth, who make up a sizable percentage of those who are exploited in the United States. While the exact number is not known because many instances of exploitation go unreported, the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline report that roughly 25% of the calls they receive are from minors.

Some have never known life outside their abuse, so picturing a different life can feel impossible. But, no matter how hard it can feel at first, the other side of surviving sex trafficking is more than worth the journey it takes to get there. Because there is always hope and people that are there to help you along the journey — and no one knows this better than the survivor-leaders who've gone on to help other survivors find their strength again.

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Elin Errson heard a man was being deported back to Afghanistan from Sweden. She wasn't going to let that happen.  

On July 23, Errson did the only thing she thought she could do: She bought a ticket for his flight and protested.

The 21-year-old Swede knew the pilot could not take off without all passengers seated. So she refused to sit down on the plane to halt the man's deportation, even if it meant facing fines or jail time. Errson live-streamed her protest.

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A tragedy introduced Lucy McBath to the American public. But now she's working to transform that pain into progress.

McBath's 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was killed in 2012 after an argument with another man at a gas station over loud music. After her son's death, McBath became a public advocate for gun control, joining Everytown for Gun Safety and appearing at the White House with President Barack Obama in 2016 for a summit on gun violence. Later that year, she campaigned with Hillary Clinton during her presidential run.

It was only after the Parkland school shooting, however, that McBath decided to run for federal elected office herself, with gun safety as the main issue on her campaign platform.

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As a former CIA military analyst, Cindy Otis has faced some incredibly difficult situations.

"For most of my career as a CIA military analyst and manager, I was around negative or disturbing content," Otis writes in an email. "It was my job to look at security issues — such as political instability, war, and terrorism — in foreign countries and help senior U.S. government officials think through what they could do about them. It was important in my career to find ways of coping with the deluge of information so that I could be useful to the federal government while still maintaining my humanity."

Photo courtesy of Cindy Otis.

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