Tianna’s survival story starts ten years ago, at the same time Awaken director Melissa Holland founded the nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating commercial sexual exploitation. Tianna, now 44 years old, was the first survivor that Awaken worked with, starting with a court-ordered therapy group for women who had received citations for solicitation.
“I didn’t like the group at first, but then Melissa took over and she was so refreshing. We were all shocked that someone really cared and was actually listening to us. I had never had anyone be so nice to me.”
Tianna’s childhood was abusive, and she was surrounded by addiction and abandonment. She says today she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from the abuse she suffered, and it led her toward a destructive lifestyle starting when she was a young teenager.
“I was never loved or cared for. I went back and forth between family members, but I never felt wanted.”
A severe drug addiction and an abusive husband left Tianna homeless in her mid-20’s, and she eventually met a pimp who introduced her to a new lifestyle. She says she knew that selling herself for money would be frowned upon, but she got through the experience by turning off her emotions and numbing herself with alcohol and drugs just to survive.
“It’s demoralizing. But if you’re numb enough, you can forget all of it. All of us are homeless, sad, broken living day to day. When you’re out there, it’s all on you. There were literally no resources to help us until Awaken.”
Tianna hasn’t sold her body in five years, and she’s committed to her recovery. While she still struggles with mental health issues and difficulty finding work to make a steady income, Awaken is the one thing that keeps her moving forward. Tianna believes the work of Awaken is essential in our community to help other women like her who have been on the streets most of their lives. Many of them don’t have the job skills, the confidence or the freedom to seek a different option.
“It’s really something that no one wants to address. Everyone looked down on me before, treated me like dirt. We need to bring awareness to people. That’s where it starts. Prostitution is frowned upon, but it’s also accepted in some ways, and it’s legal here. Think about your daughters, your sisters, your neighbors.”
Tianna says Awaken saved her from continuing a dangerous lifestyle, and she brings other women into the doors to help them escape too. She hopes one day she will fully heal from her experiences and trauma, but in the meantime, Awaken is her family.
“My life is still a chaotic mess. I still struggle. I’ve lived on the streets my whole life and it’s hard to change. But Awaken is my heart.”
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!