Recently, I was invited to attend and speak at a press conference and human trafficking bill signing that was organized by Governor Ron DeSantis and his amazing team. The press conference consisted of Governor Ron DeSantis, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez, and Attorney General Ashley Moody, along with the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and others.
Up until the minutes before the press conference began, I was unaware who else would be participating that morning. Once I found out the Attorney General would be there, I felt much more comfortable and confident in speaking because I know her and trust her.
As I sat on the stage at this press conference with all of the leaders in the state of Florida, I looked out at all of the media in the room and began to reflect on the unique position I was in. I am someone who was once thrown away – not just figuratively, but literally thrown in a dumpster where I was left to die alone at 13 years old. For 2-5 minutes I was going to have the undivided attention of the current leaders in Florida who I need to make changes in our state.
After Governor Ron DeSantis introduced everyone and spoke, Attorney General Ashley Moody was next, and while she could have used her time on anything, she chose to use part of it to address me. Her words were encouraging because they showed she remembers things we’ve talked about and she truly cares.
People have tried to silence me my entire life. I was always threatened with being taken to a “bad place” or with something bad happening to my mother, to me, or with some form of punishment. For the most part, I complied and remained silent for a majority of my life. I remained silent, not just out of fear of what would happen to me and others, but I also stayed silent due to the overwhelming amount of shame I felt as a result of the horrific things that had been done to me. I feared that if people knew the things that happened to me then they too would see me the way I was taught to see myself: worthless, disgusting, and unlovable.
Once I found my voice and started speaking, I began to receive backlash for it. As it turns out, sharing parts of my story makes some people uncomfortable. Imagine if people who were uncomfortable hearing my story were the ones who had to endure the things I did. I never share my whole story when I speak, I only share what I’m comfortable with and what is most fitting for the occasion and the amount of time I have.
For the press conference, I thought about writing out what I was going to say, but I never did. I thought about practicing how much I was going to fit in that 2-5 minutes, but I never did. I had a general idea of what I was going to share, but I still had no idea exactly what I was going to say until I walked up to the podium and started speaking.
I didn’t expect the reaction I received from everyone in the room that day. I also didn’t expect my story to reach as far as it did. I have been contacted by so many people since then and it has become abundantly clear that while we have been making a lot of progress in Florida, we still have a lot of work to do!
I’m grateful Governor Ron DeSantis is willing to put special interest groups aside and doesn’t allow them to dictate his decisions.
I will continue to step out of my comfort zone and do whatever it takes to be a voice for the voiceless and put things in place that could have helped me when I was a little girl being trafficked in Central Florida.
If those who have tried to silence me haven’t realized, I don’t have an ounce of quit in me and neither do those who are supporting and encouraging me. I look forward to continuing our work to eradicate this vicious evil from our state.