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The PEAK Project Helps Save a Young Girl from Trafficking

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*Name has been changed for safety and confidentiality

Michelle* was referred to Excelsior’s PEAK Project by a partner organization after being rescued from a large trafficking ring in Aurora. At first, Michelle did not identify as a victim, but as a “girlfriend” of one of the pimps.  As such, she refused help and was continuing on a downward spiral of depression and untreated bipolar disorder. Additionally, Michelle struggled with substance abuse, self-harm with suicidal ideations, and a domestic violent relationship. Michelle had a long history of treatment and residential placements yet continued to live at home with a very abusive mother, who shamed her daily and was physically violent due to her own mental health issues.

Michelle was skeptical at first and reluctant to accept help from Excelsior’s PEAK Project. Soon however, Michelle’s therapist developed a bond with her by doing prosocial activities and providing a safe environment where she felt heard. Most importantly, PEAK met her where she was at and gradually began working on keeping her off the streets and out of the escort business. On many occasions, PEAK provided food for her and assisted her in finding temporary shelter placements when her mother was acting violently. Without these supports, it’s likely that Michelle would have considered going back to her pimp for refuge.

Since Michelle didn’t fully recognize her exploitation or her victimization in the beginning, PEAK worked through the iEmpathize model first. After progressing through some of the lessons, Michelle began to understand. In her words, “a light bulb just went off in my head. I never knew he was using me like that.” Additionally, PEAK worked from the GEMS book, The Survivor’s Guide to Leaving. Finally, Michelle worked with PEAK to develop a safety plan which included taking off all her ads on (a website where pimps/escorts can advertise adult services).

Since Michelle had fallen so far behind in school, the next step was focusing on obtaining her GED. PEAK referred her to Emily Griffith for this where she studied hard with a tutor, passed all pre-tests and is now ready to take her final GED test! We have no doubt she will pass with flying colors.

Still the story isn’t over. Michelle’s pimp was eventually indicted and on the run from authorities, during which he attempted to contact her and manipulate her into seeing him. PEAK provided 24/7 support to help her through these difficult situations and is happy to report that she has been able to avoid him.

Unfortunately, Michelle entered into another unhealthy domestic violent relationship with a different male, but after intensive empowerment work and the diversion of healthy community activities, Michelle has removed herself from this relationship. During this emotional time, Michelle contacted PEAK in the middle of the night with suicidal thoughts. Without hesitation, PEAK took her to an ER to be assessed for a mental health hold.  Michelle was seen by a psychiatrist and prescribed the medication she desperately needed.  However, while at the ER, it was discovered that Michelle was pregnant. Confused and feeling very lost, PEAK referred her to a partner organization that provides Options Counseling and education on fetal alcohol syndrome.

Although Michelle’s journey to wellness is still long from over, she continues to work hard with her therapist to address her complex trauma history, and she no longer participates in any trafficking activities. Furthermore, Michelle is sober and motivated to get a job. Michelle will be participating in the WIOA Program (Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act) for job training and placement. Thanks to the collaborative effort of the PEAK Project and their many partner agencies, Michelle received the help she needed and has a bright future ahead of her.