This is Tanya Gould. She recently spoke at a conference held by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) in Washington, D.C. about her experience as a survivor of domestic sex trafficking. You’ll notice that in this picture there is a wooden nameplate in front of her but unlike the other speakers, her nameplate was left blank. Her name was mistakenly forgotten, but nonetheless she carried on and gave an incredible speech sharing her story and standing up for those who are being trafficked. It was a simple and harmless mistake that could have happened to any one of the speakers. But, I felt that it held a more symbolic meaning than anyone could ever realize.
Tanya was trafficked by her boyfriend when she was 18 years old. He would force her to drop out of college and use her to make money. In telling this story Tanya recalled some of the many horrific things that happened to her. Of these experiences she said it caused her to start to “deteriorate. I was physically sick, mentally depressed, I was suicidal.”
Much like this empty nameplate that sat before her, she too was another nameless object in the eyes of her traffickers and even family. She was exploited for years and felt that she had nowhere to turn. But one night, her life changed. In the middle of a violent struggle with a buyer she heard a voice say to her, “What are you doing? – you have a son.” It was at that moment that something had changed. She realized that if she was to die, her son would be in the hands of the man who sold her. So, she gave up the struggle and gave the buyer the money and he left. As she walked away from the scene a police officer drove up to her. She was frightened but soon began to tell the officer that she needed to get her and her son out of the situation they were in. The kind policeman gave her money to pay for her transportation. Of this encounter Tanya said, “He gave me the money to get him, and I just went straight over got my son and that instant left the trafficker for good.”
It was not easy, but she mustered up the courage and bravery to leave. I can’t help but think that if someone had stepped in sooner, she wouldn’t have had to go through as much emotional, physical, mental, and sexual abuse as she did.
Now a mentor and advocate for youth that have been trafficked, Tanya has found her voice and has shared her story to thousands of people from across the world. She has learned that she is more than just a survivor of sex trafficking. She is someone that has value, worth, and cannot have a price tag put on her.
In her opening remarks at the NCOSE conference Tanya stated her desire for people to put action behind their words. She said, “I do not share this with you to be inspired and then walk away….I share with you to inspire you to change, period”. That is my invitation for you today. I invite you to make a change in your life and help the voiceless and nameless be heard. These acts can be big or small, any form of change is enough to get the ball rolling and enough to help an even bigger change occur. For ideas on how to use your voice for good, visit NCOSE’s action center at; https://endsexualexploitation.org/action-center/. Your voice matters!