Editor's note: This is an excerpt of a conversation with Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, associate professor of social work, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Ariz., drawn from her work with a person called "LD" in this article.
Survivors from the world of drug addiction and the dark world of sex trafficking and violence often have heart-wrenching stories; girls and women with so much potential, lost to the pain and suffering of sexual exploitation. The hope in these stories can be found in the resiliency of survivors and their ability to create meaningful lives for themselves, even in the face of tremendous adversity.
The story of LD, a thriving business owner, is one of these stories of hope. LD owns a gallery and coffee shop in the center of a blossoming artist district in downtown Phoenix, Ariz., and is also an active member on a handful of boards of directors. Although she is now a proud small business owner, like many survivors of sex trafficking, the path she traveled to get to this place was harrowing, dangerous and filled with struggles.
As a child, LD was surrounded by artists and musicians in Greenwich Village in New York and in Alabama, an experience that taught her from a very young age the value of the arts. She grew up, married, had a son, and worked as an executive for a large convention group and traveled around the country speaking. During those years, LD describes feeling set apart and terribly unhappy and as a result she began drinking heavily.
In her professional life she found that her charm coupled with the alcohol brought her attention that relieved her feelings of discontent. She became increasingly dependent on nightlife, spending most evenings in bars. Eventually, she was introduced to crack cocaine and as a result, left her 11-year marriage, child and career.
It was a quick decline as LD became immersed in the drug use; soon she had lost everything and was living in burnt out cars and struggling every day with her addiction. Hoping a change in her environment would help her sober up, she traveled from Florida to Arizona, but ended up living on the street, sleeping behind bushes and being sexually exploited daily.
Change is a difficult and lengthy process, and like many who have struggled to overcome addiction and sexual exploitation, LD’s road to recovery was long and winding. She tried multiple times to get out of the "life" of sex trafficking and prostitution, finally finding a source of strength and joy within her art.
She began to draw and sketch during one of her stays in jail, and realizing she was a good illustrator, began to sell her work as a way to earn money to get the things she needed from the commissary.
While in jail serving time for a prostitution charge, LD met her sponsor. Eventually, she began asking questions like, “Who am I, and why am I living this way?” LD began to explore the role she was playing in the way her life was going.
Once she was released from jail, she entered into a residential recovery program and actively engaged in the City of Phoenix Prostitution Diversion program. Diversion is an intensive outpatient program and LD said that receiving these services really helped her work through her addiction.
During her recovery process, she began to give back to her community. LD has lead hundreds of 12-step meetings, continues to sponsor many individuals also in recovery and is a mentor to several sex trafficking and prostitution survivors.
LD has been in recovery and out of sexual exploitation for four and a half years. She has steadily rebuilt her life, maintains a full-time job, has been renting the same house for four years and has reconnected with her son.
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