Rebecca Bender: Author, Social Activist & Survivor
PTW: Since becoming a survivor, you’ve dedicated yourself to sharing your story and advocating for an end to human trafficking. How have you found empowerment through telling your story?
RB: Telling your story can be incredibly cathartic and therapeutic for anyone. What I have found empowering is being able to say, “all of this isn’t for nothing” and then creating calls to action and trainings through story that helps make an impact in communities!
PTW: Sharing the difficult parts of your life can make you feel vulnerable and exposed. How have you learned to embrace vulnerability as you’ve gone through the journey of sharing your story with the world?
RB: Some great things have come out of being so vulnerable actually. It has allowed me to process the questions I get from the crowd with my therapist and journal through the “whys”. LOL I also find that we’re all a lot more alike than we are different. While trafficking is extreme, we all can relate with feeling betrayed, tricked, stuck in positions and situations that we’re uncomfortable with and don’t know how to navigate, we’ve all been embarrassed or ashamed of decisions we’ve made. When we can open up and be vulnerable, it allows us to feel united in empathy.
PTW: You’ve been through an immense amount of trauma as a result of your experiences. What has the recovery process been like, and how have you practiced self-care throughout your healing process?
RB: Healing from any trauma takes time. It is about being easy on yourself when you make mistakes and celebrating every step along the journey. Getting into a good therapist, finding rhythms of rest and renewal and getting it on the calendar has been crucial.
PTW: Imagine you get to build a toolkit of five things to take out into the world, to get you through any situation. What would be in your toolkit?
RB: Like survival mode? Water purifier, Knife, Rope, tarp, wool blanket. I think I could try to survive with those. LOL!
PTW: What are your favorite pieces of media right now?
Instagram is my favorite place to hear new ideas, find fun and inspiring reels and see people’s lives who I am not near.
Tik Tok is probably a close second for me because I follow a lot of comedians.
PTW: You started Elevate Academy to help survivors build life skills after being trafficked. The program seems to be based around group discussions and community formation, alongside skill-building. What is the importance of community in your life and for survivors in general?
RB: The school is really about our classes and curriculum. It is held in cohorts where survivors get to know they are not alone and build community all around of the world of other like minded survivors who have lived through really similar traumas. The community of knowing you are not the only one, you are not “crazy” that “this feeling” is normal, or this hurdle is “normal” can feeling really freeing and validating!
PTW: For people who care about fighting trafficking, but who may not know how to help, what can each of us do to help bring an end to human trafficking, and additionally, how can we work to break down misconceptions surrounding the issue?
RB: We would love to encourage everyone to take our Find Your Lane quiz to find how their specific personality aligns with ten different ways to get involved. We also really encourage people to get to know the facts about trafficking. There are so many misconceptions and sensationalism out there - follow and reshare quotes and facts from experts not just influencers, learn the red flags so you can filter through sensationalism and Find Your Lane; from as little as talking the kids in your life about the warning signs of grooming to fully getting involved in social impact with your company, to working or volunteering at a nonprofit, there are ways for all of us to do something!
PTW: Do you have a piece of advice or words of encouragement you’d like to share with other victims or survivors?
RB: Keep going. Don’t give up on your healing, your journey toward your dreams, don’t let shut doors or setbacks stop you - KEEP GOING! It gets better, it gets easier and you will never be in the same place you are in right now if you keep moving forward.
The Three Whys:
Why do you care? I believe that each of us have a passion and purpose inside of us and I want to see each person accomplish those dreams and live a full and rewarding life.
Why do you share? To sound the alarm so others don’t live through what I did.
Why do you wear your values? I wear the things that matter to me because it is like keeping it on me at all times not only as a great reminder and conversation starters for others, but when it’s with me, I know what matters, its right here and I feel proud to represent the important things in my life.
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