Crystal Isle says she feels like she has something worth contributing, and for her, that feeling is fairly new.
For nearly 20 years, Crystal was a victim of sex trafficking in San Diego, California (USA), and was exploited in ways no one should have to experience so her traffickers could make money. During the first eight years, her trafficker was also her husband.
In 2011, Crystal took control of her own life for the first time, realizing after an arrest that if she didn’t, she would lose custody of her young son.
“I am the exception to the rule,” Crystal wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian. “Leaving the life is by no stretch an easy task. Oftentimes victims never have the chance to make it as a survivor; they die trying.”
In the fall of 2011, Crystal enrolled in a community college and started pursuing a life that was dramatically different from the one she had been living. “I was a 35-yearold single parent with absolutely no job skills and no work experience to speak of,” she wrote. “It was a humbling process to say the least, and challenging as well.”
Then, in 2016, she became the first recipient of Point Loma Nazarene University’s Beauty for Ashes scholarship, which was created to provide educational opportunities for survivors of human trafficking.
“If it hadn’t been for the Beauty for Ashes Scholarship, I would never have been able to attend PLNU,” Crystal says. “I never would have even dreamed of applying. I could not have obtained an education of this quality without the scholarship. It’s a game changer for me.”
THE BIRTH OF A DREAM
In 2014, a group of PLNU students, professors, and staff at wondered if they might be able to do more. What if survivors could see a future beyond the current reality?
“One of the things we kept hearing is that survivors dream of an education,” says Kim Jones, program director at PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation.
As the group began to dream, they wondered if they could crowd-fund a scholarship. In October 2015, that dream became reality when an Indiegogo campaign raised enough to fund the first Beauty For Ashes scholarship. Additional donations continued to come in, and two additional scholarships were awarded to students who began their studies at PLNU in August 2016.
“People are finding out about the scholarship, and there are many survivors out there who are ready and wanting to complete their college education,” Crystal says. “We need to find more people who are willing to support the fund to give other survivors the same chance I have,” she says.
After finishing her degree in social work, Crystal hopes to work in victim serviceswith others who have been trafficked.
Crystal grew up in a home that was, in her words, “riddled with family dysfunction” that included domestic violence, neglect, and sexual abuse. The summer she was 8 years old, Crystal was sexually assaulted almost daily by her stepfather. She says this abuse “set the stage” for years of exploitation and forced prostitution.
A history of abuse is extremely common among survivors’ stories, according to Jones, who says she hasn’t met a victim yet who wasn’t abused in some form as a child. The vulnerability that comes from past abuse is exactly what recruiters look for.
“Traffickers can sense when someone is vulnerable, and I was no exception,” Crystal notes.
“I think that’s really important to know, because nationwide people are starting to take notice of this kind victimization, because for so long it was seen as a choice by a rebellious teen,” says Charisma de los Reyes, a policy analyst with San Diego County’s Child Welfare Services and an alumna of PLNU.
Many women, like Crystal, are recruited by someone they consider close, often a love interest. Then they stay because of coercion.
“The bonds that hold victims are not always physical,” Jones says. “In fact, most of the time they’re not. They’re almost always psychological.”
According to Crystal, that was the case in her situation: “Although I did not know it, I never even had a choice.”
She adds, “Fortunately, today I have a much different story. One that is full of hope and potential.”
Source: NCM Magazine, Beyond Belief, Winter 2016, page 8-9