We Have A Dream

By Autumn Burris
Autumn BurrisFounder/Director
Survivors for Solutions

We once had a dream and it was not to become a prostituted person.   We dreamed of becoming a writer, a doctor, a lawyer, a truck driver, an artist, a ballet dancer and so many more professions. Dreams that didn’t involve one form of sexual exploitation or another.

Over the past 17 years, listening to countless survivors of sexual exploitation of all ages, nationalities, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, I have discovered survivors of sexual exploitation are some of the most intelligent and dedicated people. Survivors have dreams, goals and hopes for their future. They didn’t get lost along the way, they are still there.

In the journey from Victim to Survivor to ultimately Thriver, initially sexually exploited individuals have a myriad of needs-physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional. Most Survivors I have encountered have a strong desire to earn an education. Returning to school is one of the most powerful tools you can give a Survivor. The reason is very deep and nearly indescribable. Sexually exploited people have had so many things ripped away from them in their lives. Giving the gift of an education is an empowering restorative tool. I say to individuals all the time, “Education is priceless-it is something that is ALL yours no one can take it away from you-not a trafficker, not jail cell-no one-it’s all yours!”

As a survivor, I returned to school late in life to fulfill my dream and passion. My dream came to light when my boss dropped the Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000 on my desk and said, “Read this”. In the course of the struggle, the light bulb went off in my brain and within a year, I returned to school.   In 2011, I graduated from The University of California, San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with an emphasis on public policy and a minor in Human Rights. In my work in the abolitionist movement, I am thrilled to say that I use my learning from my degree regularly and it empowers me to speak with confidence and pride. I survived and today, I thrive.

In the Survivor community, there are Authors, Attorneys, Doctors, Researchers, PhDs, Case Managers, Social Workers, Therapists, Public Speakers, and those that are attending school now. My hope is that many more Survivors will join us in realizing their dreams.

Autumn is a friend of the PLNU Center for Justice & Reconciliation and the Founder/Director of Survivors for Solutions. Survivors for Solutions was created to advocate for peer-led services and programs, survivor-informed policies at all levels of government, and provide best practices consultation to governments, non-profits and institutions. Survivors for Solutions offers over 15 years of experience in advocacy, administration and service delivery to disenfranchised populations including sexual exploitation and violence against women.

If you want to give to the Beauty for Ashes Scholarship Fund, your tax deductible donation can be given here: Beauty for Ashes Fund.


  1. Thank you for creating this fund so that formerly exploited individuals can thrive!

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