June 1, 2023 | Category: News and Updates
NSN Receives Pembrook Award for Survivor Inclusion at Freedom Network Conference
In April, the NSN was honored to show up in power and solidarity at the Freedom Network USA conference in Washington DC. In total, 8 of our members were among the speakers. We were delighted to see so many presentations highlighting the experiences of survivors working in our sector and the need for prevention and repair of harms they experience. Our efforts to end human trafficking will always be limited by the degree to which this work and our organizations are led by and/or supported by the strong leadership of survivors of trafficking.
In a special part of the Wellstone Award Ceremony, a new award was introduced to honor FNUSA (and NSN) member Deborah Pembrook: The Pembrook Award for Survivor Inclusion, funded and presented by Florrie Burke. Following are excerpts of the remarks offered by Survivor Leadership Program Manager, Chris Ash, who accepted the award on behalf of the network. These remarks have been edited to preserve the confidentiality of our members and leaders.
Thank you, Florrie, and thank you Freedom Network members and staff. Your support (and FNUSA’s professional development) has meant so much to me, personally, over the past several years. I would not be the leader I am today without my FNUSA membership, and the mentoring of so many of our incredible members.
My journey as an activist started when I was 16 and attended a small dialogue facilitated by a member of ACT UP Chicago, and by 1994 I was actively involved in both LGBTQ and AIDS activism and crisis work as a suicide hotline counselor. While I’ve been doing anti-violence work a long time, I only began full-time work in the anti-trafficking movement in 2018, and even then it wasn’t in “survivor leadership” roles, and I didn’t come out professionally as a survivor for another year. Long before I was working in the anti-trafficking sector, there were people who came before me, pushing for change individually as activists and advocates, both individually and under the banner of the NSN. I have gratitude for them, and realize that I am building on a foundation laid by brilliance through blood, sweat, tears, resistance, trauma, and resilience. Jess, Nat, Suamhirs, Ima – I want to recognize each of you by name. You endured things you shouldn’t have had to. Your work, and the work of any other NSN leaders who I am forgetting or don’t know, has truly transformed our movement in ways that allow for us to be here now. I also would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the survivor community lost another powerhouse this week. I did not know Beth Jacobs, but I know many of you did. We lift up her memory, and continue fighting for the criminal record relief that she so strongly advocated for.
And Deborah Pembrook, whose impacts on our movement and our survivor community cannot be understated. I want to share a story with you about Deborah. In December of 2021, I began in my role as the Survivor Leadership Program Manager at Cast. To say I was nervous would be putting it mildly. I was so anxious! At the end of my first week at Cast, I released a newsletter announcing some of our updates. Within 24 hours, I had my first reply – from Deborah. It included kind words, and said, “I can already see from the Newsletter that you are aiming to do great things. Sending you a big welcome and wishing you and the NSN a bright future ahead.” Within a couple of months, Deborah came on as one of our first project contractors, and it was so clear to me what a beloved, thoughtful, compassionate person she was, and I will never forget her brilliance or her kindness. She contracted with us up until the time of her death.
Many of you may not know that. Her contract work with us did not end up with a completed deliverable, and I have a practice of not “outing” NSN members or consultants without cause and without their consent. The upside of this is that folks trust me to keep their confidence. The downside is that many people do not realize what an incredible team effort it is behind the scenes. So I reached out to every person who has consulted with us last week to see who wanted to be honored this evening.
I’d like to start with our Restructure Team, who initially clarified and revised our values.
I did not write the NSN’s values statement. I inherited a solid statement from Jess Torres. I knew we wanted to revise it, but I didn’t want it to be my choices or my words, so I invited a number of people to be part of our restructure team. All but one accepted. Some members were long-time anti-trafficking advocates, and others were trafficking survivors who are professionals, activists, and organizers in other anti-oppression fields. We came together across our many differences and created something beautiful.
At the time, many of them were scared to speak freely – because they didn’t want to lose work in the anti-trafficking sector due to not saying the mainstream things or because they honestly didn’t want to have their names associated with the anti-trafficking sector. I offered them anonymity if they wanted, and offered to take any heat from the values in the hopes that I could use my privilege to be a buffer. Because we built trust, they are all still engaged or connected with our ongoing work in one way or the other.
Today, I can tell you who (some) of them are. I want to offer my deep gratitude to all of them. All of them are mentors to me.
- [Names and biographical information for 5 members redacted]
- We had three other members of our Restructure Team who still prefer to remain unnamed, as it is economically and emotionally risky as a survivor leader to come out and say the “wrong” things.
In 2023, we added another layer of member support into our processes with the launch of our Membership and Community Working Group. This group supports the NSN with membership issues, including conducting interviews and orientations, meeting monthly to discuss membership issues, and helping build community.
- [Names and brief bios of the 3 members of this working group ]
This working group plus a handful of returning members of our Restructure Team make up our Steering Group, which meets regularly to support me in navigating conflicts between members, developing clear processes to support our work, and holding me accountable to our values.
Outside of this working group, we’ve also been blessed by brilliant lived and professional experience expertise.
- [Names and brief bios of 13 additional members who consult with us]
I’d like to thank the other NSN consultants who asked to remain anonymous, and to remind you that this is what we’re up against – a sector in which survivor leaders live in fear of lost income, doxing, and harassment when they step out of the mainstream narrative. This is what happens when survivors’ narratives are handed to them, and when they’re tokenized or exploited. This is why the work of values-based networks like Freedom Network and the NSN is SO IMPORTANT. We are here for a reason. We are forging a new way.
Finally, I’d like to thank all of our members and invite any of you who are comfortable to come join me. We are currently (as of April) 68 members strong (most of whom are from the 6 weeks we had applications open last fall), with passionate survivor advocates learning, teaching, and in solidarity with each other, aligned on our values, and clear on our purpose. We have another 94 member applications we are just beginning to process that came in through our last open application period in January. We are not insignificant in number, and are not outsiders. Our voices matter too.
We are grateful to Freedom Network for honoring our collective work, and to each of you for the solidarity you are showing survivors like us.