Andrea Benson spends her days working as a Client Services Manager for a wealth management company. Her evenings are spent with friends, taco nights with family, and her beloved dog Patches.
Her deep passion is for spreading awareness of sex trafficking with the hope that no one will ever have to endure what she went through as a survivor. As part of The Life Story project, here is her story:
NEST: Can you tell us a little bit about your story?
My story is one that is unique, but not too far from how others get lured into the life of sex-trafficking. I grew up in a normal loving home, went to college, and it was after college that I was manipulated into trafficking by the man who I thought was my boyfriend. He used my vulnerabilities and hopes for marriage and a family of my own to convince me to prostitute myself for him. After he had lured me into the life, he used video footage, photos, and threats that "no one else will ever love you...I'll make sure you will never be able to get a job again...and your family will never take you back" to keep me in that life. After finally leaving that lifestyle 3 years ago, I was connected to trained mentors who have walked alongside helping me through an incredible healing journey. I have committed my life to helping others understand and fight sexual exploitation, and my next steps are to go to Law School to help vacate charges for girls coming out of the life and prosecute their traffickers."
Why was it important for you to be part of The Life Story project?
It was important for me to be involved because I want to use my story to help others become better equipped to recognize the signs of trafficking and know where they may have the opportunity to step in and make a difference in the lives of those being trafficked.
How do you hope the project will be shared and used?
I hope that the tool will be shared organically...I imagine one person sharing it with a friend who is a nurse, that person going and sharing it with their coworkers...maybe one of the co-workers also happens to do foster care and shares it with their friends who also foster...I just see people saying to their friends and loved ones, "You HAVE to see this!!" That's partly because as I have shared my story and spoken in many different venues, I have spoken with people who think this would never apply to them or their work, but the truth is, this is a tool that every single person could benefit from using.
What would you like our audience to gain from The Life Story?
The biggest thing that I want people to gain is that we are all living life together in this world. As humans, we need to care, we need to help, we need to tell others that they matter to someone and that help is out there. And ultimately, I want people to understand that this can happen to anyone. We all have vulnerabilities within us and traffickers are experts at exploiting those vulnerabilities. Don't think that you are better than, or smarter than the next person because honestly, you're not.
How can we encourage young people to speak out against sexual exploitation?
I think that this is already beginning to happen with the "Me too" movement, but I think we need to continue to encourage young people to speak out, love those that seem different from us, lose the stereotypes about prostitutes that we've held onto for so many generations, and start to open our eyes to the people around us who are hurting and need help. The resources are out there, we just need to share it with others.