Take a moment to #turnthepage and read the tear-jerking stories of our clients, donors and volunteers about the reasons they became apart of the T.O.R.I. program and the life-changing impact the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative has had on their lives.
“I was a sex trafficking victim. Now my past fuels me to help others. What’s that they say about reaching back to pick someone else up? That’s the type of person I want to be.”
DeAnna’s home life was far from picture-perfect. Her mother cycled through romantic relationships, bringing substances and strangers into the home. During that time, DeAnna faced many traumas and decided that she would leave home at the age of 16.
“After my mom’s boyfriend molested me, I ran away. The funny thing is no one ever called the police. I was never reported as a missing child. I was forgotten.” DeAnna reflects.
DeAnna bounced around between the streets and the homes of friends. During that time, she continued attending school as long as she could, but her frequent absences led her to complete an alternative school program that granted her a G.E.D. at age 17. One day, as she was searching for a place to sleep, a young man drove up beside her and asked her if she needed a place to stay. He was not much older than DeAnna. To DeAnna, the man seemed nice. However, unaware of the implications of accepting his offer, DeAnna found herself rapidly forced into sex trafficking.
“Everything that you have ever heard, anything that you can imagine – that happened to me, each time I left, he would find me. I was bringing in up to $2,000 a night and giving it all to him. He said he was offering me safety and protection, but that was far from the truth.”
In 2011, when the Super Bowl was in Arlington, DeAnna was arrested in an undercover operation. DeAnna was charged with prostitution in her first of many arrests.
“He wasn’t protecting me then. My head wasn’t right, either. Like so many, I didn’t think I could ever leave the game. I had no self-worth. I never thought about any long-term effects.”
DeAnna’s criminal background contained 18 prostitution charges by the time she escaped in 2018. A local agency that assists women escaping human sex trafficking helped DeAnna to make a new start. Her peer mentor at the agency referred her to T.O.R.I.
“I never thought about how hard it might be to get a job with all those charges. Before I made the bad decision to accept that place to stay, which started this whole saga, I had a good head on my shoulders and enjoyed school,” DeAnna said.
After connecting with T.O.R.I., her case manager developed a plan of action based on T.O.R.I.’s six core components of employment, education, healthcare, housing, spiritual guidance, and family reunification. During her first one-on-one meeting, her case manager asked her what she wanted to do for a living. DeAnna surprised herself and said, “I want to be a counselor and help those leaving sex trafficking.”
Through T.O.R.I.’s partnership with Dallas College, DeAnna received several scholarships. During that time, she took an Intro to Social Work class and fell in love with the profession.
“During the dark season in my life, I couldn’t imagine being like the woman who helped me at the trafficking help center or like my T.O.R.I. case manager, but T.O.R.I. helped me see that I could. It wasn’t easy, but my T.O.R.I classes and sessions made me feel I could do anything!” DeAnna said with a smile.
After completing her education at Dallas College, DeAnna attended a local 4-year university, obtained her Bachelor of Social Work degree, and began working to obtain her state licensure.
“The best thing? Well, the agency that saved me from trafficking hired me. I’m on an outreach team that goes out to events and identifies potential victims. I help them to create an exit plan.” DeAnna stated confidently.
“I like to say that I can give people options, and that’s what I do for a living. The same way that T.O.R.I. gave me options. Without options, we all find ourselves forced to do things we never thought we would do. It takes a helping hand to reach out and pull us out of the darkness. I am forever grateful for the hands that have helped me over the years, I vow to always be a hand that helps others. I owe so much of that mindset to T.O.R.I.”