PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Human trafficking victims live an average of seven years after their exploitation begins. Statistics show most succumb to homicide, suicide, or overdose.
Larissa, a Tampa Bay area trafficking survivor, managed to escape with her life after more than a decade of exploitation.
It began when she was only 12, a vicious cycle of jail, substance abuse, and trauma that continued until her late twenties.
“They were pimps, you know?” she described. “And they were scary.”
Larissa found the Florida Dream Center six months ago, an outreach center that helps trafficking victims. More recently, she embarked on its six week “Restored” program, a form of therapy where survivors are taught to build furniture from broken pieces.
Through restoring furniture, Larissa learned she could restore her life as well.
“I learned I didn’t have to be complacent in my victimization,” she said. “It’s okay to move forward.”
Showing off the sage green pet bed she fashioned from the pieces of a broken chair, Larissa pointed out a portion of the frame she called her favorite part.
“Because you didn’t know what was here before you sanded it down,” she explained, running her hands over the polished and painted wood. “As I sanded it down, I found a heart, a rose, a star.”
For Larissa, and other trafficking survivors, the final product is much more than just a piece of furniture.
It’s a metaphor.
“It’s kind of like myself,” she explained. “I was once broken, and now I’m restored.”
Larissa knows it will take more than six weeks, or even six months, to sand down the trauma from her years of trafficking. But through the Dream Center, she’s now getting a chance to help other victims face their demons, making her own easier to bear.
“I feel like I have to save lives,” she said. “Because I can.
Larissa wasn’t comfortable sharing how she escaped her traffickers other than saying it “took a lot of prayer.”
She plans to go back to school to become a surgical technician, so that in addition to helping people heal emotionally, she can have a hand in helping people heal physically as well.