12/20/2013 10:58 am ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Sexual Trafficking Survivor Speaks Out About Thankfulness in the Holiday Season

During the holiday season we are often reminded of what we are grateful for throughout the rest of the year. Our family, friends, and experiences combine into a symphony of goodwill and warm hearts. As the leader of a charity I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the individuals who make up my organization's supporter base. I wish I had the time and space to thank each one of them personally. When I started The Wayne Foundation in 2010, I had no idea what a rollercoaster ride I would be signing up for. What I have learned in the past three years is to be confident, to be sincere, and most of all to have appreciation for the strangers who stand by my side and believe in my vision. Just as I have inspired them, they inspire me.

The Wayne Foundation was founded to spread awareness of domestic minor sexual trafficking (DMST) and the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Our vision is to one day provide long-term housing and support services in order to aid and empower survivors. I founded this charity because at the age of 14 I was coerced into sexual trafficking. Just like so many other DMST victims I came from a broken and abusive home. I survived this experience, and the trauma that led up to it, and followed after it. This article is not about me, but about the thousands of potential victims who need help who should not be forgotten.

This is the time of year that most people will give gifts to the people they care about, share meals, and provide each other with love and companionship. For many child trafficking victims their holiday will be filled with loneliness, isolation, pain, and frustration. Children from broken homes become easy targets to sexual predators; traffickers and pimps included. Their abusers take on the role of their family, further impacting the child's delicate psyche. It is far easier to use love as a weapon than any sort of deadly tool. Our organization wants to provide the love and care that these young adults, once rescued, have lived without for most of, if not their entire lives.

Even now, 15 years after I was able to end the abuse I had experienced throughout my entire childhood, I still suffer the burden that the holiday season brings. Being different from everyone else is hard. Were it not for my husband, I would have no family to share in festivities with. I have no family. They are still in existence, but they will never be there for me. I have accepted this as a part of my life, and each holiday season I suffer in silence, longing for a mother and father to reach out to. If this is how I feel now, as a survivor, how do current victims feel? For me this makes my work with The Wayne Foundation even more important.

This year, as you look into your loved ones eyes, take a long moment to appreciate anything and everything that they have ever done for you, because the reality is that you are one of the lucky ones. You are loved. Don't complain about the in-laws' idiosyncrasies, or pout because the perfect gift did not miraculously appear one snowy morning. Instead, remember that there are "up to 293,000 children at risk in the United States," according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Those young adults could become victims of sexual trafficking. Never forget why they are at risk: poverty, abuse, homelessness, and the foster system. As you tuck into your dinner bear in mind that these teens are selling themselves just for enough to buy a fast food feast. We all have so much to be grateful for. Sometimes we just need a reminder. Today, I am reminding you that not every child in the United States of America is well cared for and happy. Just as I have no family, or warm memories to reminisce about, neither do today's victims. I write this so you will understand that there are those suffering, and we must do everything we can to help support them. It is what we would want for our loved ones, and it is what we should want for those who are being abused. None of us are strangers after we have said hello. Be grateful, and please support counter child-trafficking efforts such as our work at The Wayne Foundation.