Katerina is proud of herself for the first time ever in her 27 years of life. She recently went back to school and earned her GED and she’s taking college classes in order to become an HVAC technician. It’s also the first time in as long as she can remember that she doesn’t owe anyone anything—not money, not sex and not drugs. In November of 2020, Katerina became the very first graduate of Awaken’s restorative housing program designed to help sex trafficking victims recover and reclaim their lives.
“I am most proud of the fact that I was able to go back to school. I got teased a lot as a child for being overweight and for not having clean clothes. Walking back into a school was a big deal for me.”
When hearing Katerina talk about her freedom and her success, it’s hard to believe that before she got to Awaken, she was mistreated, neglected and abused for most of her life. Her first experiences with sexual abuse were when she was a young teenager and her mom’s boyfriend would buy her gifts in exchange for sex. Even though she told her mother she was afraid to be alone with him, she says her mom moved out one day and never returned.
“I knew I couldn’t be at home. I felt unimportant because no one made room for me in their life. It was hard to feel loved or wanted.”
At age 14, Katerina ran away with a friend’s 25-year-old brother—simply because she wanted to escape the abuse happening at home. He took care of her at first, and she says she felt appreciated and safe with him. But soon, he began to sell Katerina in exchange for drugs or a place to stay. She was passed around by his friends, strangers and anyone who would help supply their habits. Eventually, Katerina’s own addictions also dragged her down, making her feel even more stuck in her situation.
“He made me feel like this was the only way. And I loved him. I didn’t realize there were other options, that I had a different choice.”
Her boyfriend wasn’t the only man who controlled her. In ten years, Katerina was trafficked in Reno and Sparks by four different men, all who sold her body for money or drugs. It wasn’t until she went to jail and ended up in an addiction treatment center, that she discovered Awaken and completely redirected her life. Through Awaken’s housing program, Katerina received intense group and personal therapy, and she began to learn healthier coping skills for her emotional pain. She was surrounded by a supportive, loving community, great friends and a chance for a fresh start.
“The team at Awaken loves you even when you can’t love yourself, even when you struggle to look in the mirror.”
To all of the women who are still out there and caught up in drugs or being trafficked, Katerina says to trust in the process and give Awaken a chance to work in their life. She says it’s often the women who are from broken homes, forgotten and damaged by their pasts who are most vulnerable to the system.
“People don’t believe this is happening in our town. Most of the community turns a blind eye. They don’t want to see or hear about it. But it’s rampant.”
Return to the Ten Years of Transformation page to read other courageous survivor stories.
Since Awaken was founded in 2011, it has reached more than 700 women and children in the Northern Nevada community. Awaken’s mission is to increase awareness and education surrounding the issue of commercial sexual exploitation and to provide housing and restoration for its victims.
Thank you to all of the Awaken donors and supporters who have helped us reach this important milestone of ten years!