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The Avery Center

Helping sex-trafficked survivors find healing, empowerment

by Kathy Hayes

The man who said he loved her was the same one who pressured Megan Lundstrom into having sex for money. The name she used in that life was Avery Day. “‘Avery’ was a person I could become, so I could separate from the exploitation I was experiencing.”

Intimate partners and family members are the biggest offenders of sex trafficking, says Lundstrom. Like cult leaders, they use psychological means to coerce victims into commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) which includes prostitution, performing in a strip club, and pornography.

Lundstrom is now director of research and the co-founder of The Avery Center (formerly Free Our Girls), a national nonprofit based in Greeley that helps other victims and survivors along their journey to freedom. People may not realize it, but northern Colorado and the Western Slope have experienced high demand for commercial sex in recent years, according to local experts.

The Avery Center logoEmpowering survivors

Sex trafficking knows no boundaries and affects women of all ages, ethnicities, and education level.

The Avery Center provides current CSE victims and survivors with direct services including financial literacy classes, job training, support groups, and access to basic needs.

The Care Package Program is a powerful way to connect the center with survivors, who are working to reclaim their lives, says Danae Duran, director of services. Shipped monthly to nearly 100 subscribers nationwide, packages include self-care products, an affirmation card with encouraging words, and a brochure about the center’s services.

“We want them to know that they matter, that we recognize what they’ve been through and we are here for them,” explains Duran. Care package recipients are more likely to reach out for help, she adds.

‘A target on their back’

Connecting with people who are still being trafficked helps the organization understand the importance of reducing demand for commercial sex, and how to decrease barriers for victims.

Angie Henderson, a University of Northern Colorado sociology professor and researcher, volunteered to help Lundstrom collect data to better serve the organization’s needs. She interviewed over 70 women to learn how they were exploited. Most of them were “boyfriended” in. The traffickers groomed their victims—taking them on dates, buying them things, promising them the sky.

“The woman falls in love with this man,” Henderson explains. “Then times get tough and the man says, ‘I know a way that you can make quick money.’” The trafficker may use physical, emotional, and sexual abuse to manipulate her to perform commercial sex.

Around 80 to 90 percent of victims experienced prior sexual abuse, assault, or rape, she notes. “Traffickers sense this. Victims say they feel like they have a target on their back.”

Reducing demand

In order to reduce demand for commercial sex, the center works with area law enforcement on sting operations and education for first-time offenders to learn that buying sex is not a victimless crime but harms individuals and communities.

“We are all part of this issue,” says Lundstrom. “We need folks to be aware that this is going on in northern Colorado.”

How to spot human trafficking

A person may:

  • Look disoriented or confused
  • Have bruising in various stages of healing
  • Act fearful, timid, or submissive
  • Show signs of being denied food, water, sleep, or medical care
  • Accompany someone who is in control of where they go, who they talk to, or what they say
  • Have a lack of personal possessions and an unstable living situation

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign, dhs.gov/blue-campaign/indicators-human-trafficking

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