Grese Sermaxhaj brings us the uplifting story of Ebony Archie-Quintana, someone who has survived human trafficking and is now thriving.
Speaking exclusively to Youth Time, she shares her story from a victim to an advocate because she knows a lot of young people are growing up with trauma, like her, and by speaking her voice she is a living proof that we can always be better for ourselves and for our communities.
“I had to wake up and tell myself one day that I wanted better for myself. It took me years to find my peace and to love myself unconditionally.”, says Ebony, who is in her late 20s and has been in recovery for 11 years.
“Yes, my journey has been long, and I had to work very hard to get it here. But, it was all worth it.”, she adds, while believing it is time to stop hiding in the shadows and speak up.
Through Youth Time, she leads the way for this and gives us all the insights needed to empower ourselves and encourage others to speak up.
In this piece, you will witness the strength of a youth trafficking survivor- and how she did not allow this rough experience to shape her future.
Turning a Bad Experience into a Good One
This journey, Ebony says, has been the longest and hardest journey of her life – but definitely worth it.
“Growing up, they considered me an outcast not only at school but also in my family. I was born and raised in a Southern Baptist household, which meant I had an extremely religious and strict upbringing.
“I was adopted by my grandparents, which was pretty hard because they were old school, so a lot of things kids my age got to do I could not-although my brother got more privileges than I did.”
While young, she discovered she was not heterosexual, and this made her family backlash her.
“From a very early age, I already felt as if my biological parents did not want me and my grandparents did not accept me for who I was.
“So, I became depressed. I developed eating disorders, I was put on medication because of my depression and attempting to harm myself.”
She was told she was not beautiful.
“So, as I got into my late teenage years, I just wanted to feel love, I wanted to feel wanted, and I also just wanted to be perfect for someone, anyone. I started getting into the online world of social media to find validation for myself through strangers.”
She met someone who she thought was an amazing person because they said all the right things.
But little did she know this person would be her first trafficker.
“In 2010 I was 18 years old when I was flown across the country from North Carolina to New Mexico where I ended up meeting this person. Police rescued me when I could escape my trafficker and called 911. That was one of the scariest moments in my life because I just knew he would find me.”.
Meeting Her Mentor
Luckily, she met her mentor Lynn Sanchez- to whom she remains thankful to this day.
“I was not ready for help because I was still ashamed and had gotten into an abusive relationship that I felt I deserved and I left the program after two years. I went back east in 2012 because I felt because of the cultural difference I would never make it in New Mexico.”
Youth Time interviewed Sanchez, and you can read more about her work here.
Ebony experienced multiple abusive relationships because she felt she deserved it.
Until she ran into her next trafficker in 2014.
“He then got me addicted to illegal substances. By this time, I had given up on life and I was just ready to die until I became pregnant. But due to all my trauma, I miscarried, and I felt like my life was over. So, I reached back out to Lynn to see if I could get another shot in her program.”
Here the story takes a different turn – a positive one.
“She [Lynn] said yes and in 2015, I was back in New Mexico. It was really rough in the beginning because I was in another abusive relationship, so substance abuse was definitely an issue,” says Ebony, who has been clean for four years.
For her wellbeing, Ebony moved to Albuquerque, where she has lived for five years now.
“I still struggle to see my worth, but when I look at the work I do, it brings me back to reality and gives me a reason to keep going because it is not just for me anymore. It is also for those who are going through those same things.”
The Joy of Helping Others in Similar Situations
For her, working in the human trafficking program has been a blessing.
“We have reached so many adults and youth, at first they are very reluctant to tell us what is going on in fear of backlash, but once they realize I am a survivor as well they opened up.”, she says, while reminding us that this program is developed by Microsoft and allows them to reach the victims in real-time online.
Although when she was first offered the job was reluctant, now she acknowledges that sharing her experience has not only helped her but has also given others so much hope.
She explains it is harder to help anyone under 18 because the program caters to 18 and older.
“However, we do partner with other agencies within our state to get them to the services they need. There are a few barriers for those under 18 due to them needing more attention than adults not only because of their age but also they have a tendency to run because they are afraid that there is nothing for them after they turn 18.”
There is always help and hope.
“We can help them gain their lives back but we also have to remember to accept them as they are because they may have had no one to look out for hem or have cared as much as we do.”
“A lot of times for me after speaking to a victim/survivor, even if I do not get to work with them, just hearing them say,” thank you I’m glad someone finally believes me”, is worth more than life itself.”
There’s Always a Window for a Better Life
We here at Youth Time interview a lot of inspiring young people and we know that there are a lot of others aiming to do positive things for their communities-despite the challenges.
On this note, Ebony shares a message with all those young people facing obstacles in their journeys.
“My message to all the young people who are reading this and feel like there is no way out. I just want to say I am living proof that there is and you can have a better life.”
“You will never be ready to get away from these obstacles in your life, whether it be fear of not knowing what may happen, or you just do not feel you are good enough, or that you are not worth it.”
Ebony is here to tell you she knows you are worthy more than what you feel and you can do this.
“We believe you, I believe you, and I believe in you. Yes, it may be hard, you may be scared, or you just do not care anymore, but do not give up just yet. There are plenty of people in this world that believe you and want to help you.
“You have so much more life to live and so much more love to give that you do not have to continue down this road.”
Even if you are a friend of someone who you know needs help, reach out.
Here’s how you can help.
“Start off with small conversations just saying; hey how are you? That sometimes gives them hope in a world where they feel they have none. We have to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves.
“They deserve just as much love as we do. Everyone doesn’t have it easy, but having someone by their side can make it a little better.
“For those who are victims, leave a note somewhere even if it is just an S.O.S. there are so many people here to help you and we will not let you get lost in the system.”
Ebony wants to leave you all with this:
- We Believe you
- You Are Worthy and Loved
- You Don’t Need to Be Ashamed or Afraid Anymore
- Your Life Has Meaning and You Have the Right to Say No.
- Stay Empowered- We Are Here When You Are Ready.
Unfortunately, the internet is not always a safe space for youth. Young people are exposed to various threats-one of them being sextortion. Here we suggest to you our piece:
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