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Human trafficking survivor shares story at Unchained fashion show

Through varying styles of dresses and makeup, models from the Unchained OSU fashion show portray the three stages in the life of a human trafficking survivor: innocence, violation and restoration. Credit: Courtesy of Jenna Paskey

Four years ago, Hollie Daniels was prosecuted in the Franklin County courts for prostitution. Today, she works for the prosecutor’s office as a domestic violence advocate.

Daniels, a 36-year-old human trafficking survivor and current student at Columbus State, told her story Saturday in Curl Hall at the third-annual fashion show hosted by Unchained OSU, an undergraduate student organization that seeks to spread awareness of human trafficking.

With more than 150 audience members, Unchained OSU raised about $800 from donations that will contribute to the Unchained Overcomer Scholarship. The scholarship is given to human trafficking survivors like Daniels to help fund their higher education, Rebecca Kuhr, a third-year in fashion and retail studies, as well as treasurer of Unchained OSU, said.

“A big part of us raising awareness is prevention because some people don’t even know that they’re being trafficked or see the red flags of where it’s heading,” Kuhr said. “Hopefully it can prevent trafficking in some way.”

Serena Kaul, a third-year in neuroscience and vice president of Unchained OSU, said that through a series of dresses and makeup worn by 15 models, the show portrayed three stages in the life of a human trafficking survivor: innocence, violation and restoration.

Kaul said innocence is the stage of a survivor’s life before being trafficked; violation is the stage when a survivor meets his or her trafficker; and restoration is the stage when a survivor can hopefully escape the system of abuse.

“For innocence, we have tutus and more playful looks and pigtails and pretty makeup. But as you go on and progress throughout it, we get dark makeup, messy hair and dark colors,” Kaul said. “And at the end, it’s more bright colors for restoration and pretty makeup — back to the beginning.”

In addition to the fashion show, there was a musical performance by Dust and Light, as well as several speakers affiliated with human trafficking prevention.

While the models walked the runway, a slideshow was presented that provided facts and statistics regarding human trafficking, and Kuhr said many are surprised to learn that Ohio ranks fourth in the United States for reports of human trafficking.

“It’s happening all around us even if you don’t really realize it,” Kuhr said.

As someone who experienced the stages of human trafficking represented during the show, Daniels said she was moved by the performances and the models themselves.

“It was intense,” Daniels said. “I really enjoyed seeing some for the portrayals of how the costumes could relate to some of the situations we face while we’re in that lifestyle.”

During her speech, Daniels, who financed her education at Columbus State through the Unchained Overcomer Scholarship she received two years ago, described the abuse she suffered as a child while living with drug-addicted grandparents and explained how her own mother catalyzed her exposure to sex traffickers.

She said she started using drugs at a young age in order to escape the reality she faced and after one month of moving in with her mother at the age of 15, she was addicted to crack cocaine while prostituting on the streets of Columbus.

Daniels said that 3 percent of women who are trafficked in the U.S. are abducted, while the other 97 percent, including herself, are coerced, convinced or lied to through fraud.

“In this process of being out there for 17 long years, there were so many nights I would pray for death,” Daniels said. “I would pray for God to take my life because I didn’t want to keep going on like this. I didn’t have a mind of my own; it was either the drugs or the trafficker controlling me.”

She said that no one, in the 17 years of being in and out of the criminal justice system, children’s services and foster care, asked her if she needed help.

Daniels encouraged Ohio State students in the audience to prevent her story from happening to others.

“A lot of you are students here at OSU — maybe service providers, medical professionals or doing some type of education — you’re going to be the one to intervene for people like me,” Daniels said. “If one of you intervened for me at a young age, my story would be completely different standing up here today. So be that person for that little girl because that’s what she needs.”

Despite years of abuse, Daniels said she eventually escaped the system after a mental health professional encouraged her to attend a human trafficking counseling program.

Four years later, Daniels works as an advocate for the Franklin County prosecutor’s office, where she guides domestic violence victims through the process of court proceedings.

She also said she volunteers for an organization called Reaching for the Falling Stars, where she does street outreach to help women and girls currently being trafficked to get the resources they need.

“I go back out to the same streets that held me captive for 17 years,” Daniels said. “But I also get to tell my story to these women that you can, too. You don’t have to do this; you are worth so much more.”

Daniels applied for the Unchained Overcomer Scholarship a second time this year, and if she receives the scholarship, she said she will use the money to continue her education at Ohio State.

Although she was accepted into Ohio State, she said she is still waiting for a university committee to finalize her admission due to her past criminal record.

“What I’m doing today, there’s no way [the committee] can deny me, and if they do say no, I will just keep continuing because I will not take no for an answer because that’s where I want to be, and I want to be an OSU graduate,” Daniels said. “I deserve that; that’s my dream. Why can’t I have that?”

With the large turnout and success of the fashion show, Kaul and Kuhr said they hope to continue with their efforts to prevent human trafficking in the future and support survivors like Daniels.

“The more people who know about the message, the more people who can take action against the issue,” Kaul said.

Daniels said that if she could give her younger self a piece of advice, it would be to never give up hope.

“Continue,” Daniels said. “Continue to hold on because it does get better.”

The national human trafficking hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.

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