By Isabel Vasquez, Handa Center Student Assistant
Brooke Axtell, founder of She is Rising, a healing community for women and girls overcoming gender violence and trafficking for sex, spoke to a Stanford audience about her work and her new memoir Beautiful Justice: Reclaiming My Worth After Human Trafficking and Sexual Abuse. She shared what she means by “beautiful justice:” how what is “just” for survivors must be understood as “what is deserved.” She discussed how this aspect of “what is deserved” is often missing in the criminal justice system and explained how she strives to discover what it means for survivors to create their own justice.
In her talk, Brooke discussed the need for a more inclusive integration of survivors’ voices into the narratives of the anti-trafficking movement. She shared how these narratives often “reduce survivors to their worst experiences” by including their stories of trauma but overlooking other aspects of their identity and the contributions that could result from seeing them as whole people rather than as just survivors. She emphasized the point that such “dehumanizing strategies cannot be used to change a dehumanizing system.” One small component of her work to change that dynamic involves ensuring that survivors are compensated for sharing their stories, which she discovered is often not the case.
Brooke also described her efforts to place human-trafficking within the broader context of the normalization of violence against women. She explained how sex trafficking is often seen as a wholly separate issue from partner violence, even though partner violence is one of the greatest challenges that survivors face both before, during, and after trafficking. Brooke explained how seeing sex trafficking as a separate issue is causing us to miss these important connections that need to be made in order to work towards a solution.
On the topic of finding a solution, Brooke discussed the importance of addressing the “inherent aspects of our culture that normalize the commoditization of violence against women.” She shared her belief in the need to start education on such issues earlier, including teaching young people to identify unsafe relationship behaviors.
You can watch the event video here.
This event was co-sponsored by Stanford’s Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Education and Response (SARA).