Heroes Spotlight
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2021 HEROES' SPOTLIGHT

Survivor Spotlight

This year we are proud to honor members of NCMEC’s Survivor Expert Working Group. They are a panel of incredible activists using their lived experience to combat child sex trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. Members of this group are advocates and authors, organizers and educators. They’ve spoken at the United Nations, the White House, and in communities across the country. Join us on social media (@MissingKids) every Sunday and follow the hashtag #SurvivorSunday to learn more about their extraordinary efforts as we thank them for their tireless work to protect kids and empower survivors. 

Wade Arvizu

Wade Arvizu is a published author, public speaker and Human Trafficking Field Expert. He has been providing recommendations and input to inform research, policies, and programs to combat trafficking since 2014. His primary focus is on familial/caregiver facilitated trafficking and working with LGBTQIA survivors of exploitation and trafficking. He has contracted with the Office for Victims of Crime and other government and non-government organizations to assist in human trafficking prevention, education and specialized training.

Erik Gray

Erik Gray (They/He) is a proud Filipinx from Calumpit, Bulacan Philippines and raised in Guam, Japan, and on the unceded territories of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribes, and Coast Salish Peoples. Erik currently serves as a Victim Advocate with King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Therapeutic Alternatives Unit.  

Erik is a proud graduate of the Native Pathways Program from the Evergreen State College and a survivor of many things, including child sex trafficking. Erik’s background includes crisis services focused on serving survivors of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE(C)), domestic violence, and sex workers seeking support. Previously, Erik created a 20-bed shelter for youth of color, expanded CSE services countywide to all genders, and provided technical assistance transnationally. Some training and response protocols Erik is most proud of are for Native & Indigenous Communities, United Nations, hospitals rural and urban, faith communities, and government agencies such as the Federal Office of Trafficking in Persons, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Justice. Erik continues to provide technical assistance to programs and governments inclusively serving trafficking survivors while advocating for Victims in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. 

Keisha Head

Mrs. Keisha Head is more than just a survivor of child sex trafficking. For the past 10 years, she has served as a nationally recognized speaker and advocate, aiming to end all forms of human trafficking. She has been called upon by the U.S. Department of Justice and advocates for legislation that protects victims of human trafficking. Head is also a consultant for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Head has also worked closely with the Children’s Advocacy Center and she uses her personal story of being a victim, turned survivor, emerged leader, to serve as an inspiration for others. In 2011, Head was awarded the Paul Howard’s Fulton County District Attorney “Voices for Victims" Award. Head has been featured in numerous local and national news articles and has appeared on various televised broadcast, including Fox News and CNN, to spread awareness nationally. In 2012, her first televised interview “How to Stop the Candy Shop,” conducted by PBA’s Ross Scott, received the Southeastern Emmy. In 2013, Head was awarded the “Voice of Courage” Award from Darkness to Light, an organization that advocates and provides services for sexual abuse victims. Head was also featured in the November 2014 special men’s edition of Ebony Magazine. Head currently serves as Secretary of the Board for the Sun Gate Foundation, an organization that provides educational assistance to survivors of human trafficking. In 2018, Teresa Pike Tomlinson, Mayor of Columbus, Georgia declared April 12th “Keisha Head Day,” and awarded Head with the key to the city. In 2020, Keisha started CEO Bizness and CEO Biz Kidz, a company that serves as an incubator for entrepreneurs to become successful business owners while breaking the cycles of generational poverty.  She is also the lead case manager for the Salvation Army Haven ATL program. Apart from advocating, Head is a wife and mother of four beautiful children. She is also a passionate writer and plans to publish her first novel titled, “Survival Mode” in the near future.

Robert Lung

Robert Lung currently serves as a District Court Judge in Colorado.  He also provides presentations nationally and internationally on issues such as human trafficking, childhood trauma and resiliency.  Judge Lung previously served as the Judicial Representative and the Vice-Chair on the Colorado Human Trafficking Council and as the Chair of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.  He currently serves on the National Advisory Committee on the Sex Trafficking of Children and Youth in the United States and provides consultation to the Department of Justice, the Administration for Children and Families, the State Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).  In his “free time” Judge Lung works on writing his first book, a biography about hope and resiliency, and he endeavors to keep up with his two adopted sons in hiking and downhill mountain biking.

Audrey Morrissey

Audrey Morrissey is the Associate Director of My Life My Choice, a program of Justice Resource Institute. Since 2002, My Life My Choice has offered a unique continuum of survivor-led services aimed at preventing the commercial sexual exploitation of children. As a local and national leader in the field of exploitation, Ms. Morrissey most recently has served as Co-Chair of the Victim Services Committee of the Massachusetts Task Force on Human Trafficking. Ms. Morrissey has also served as a primary consultant to the Massachusetts Administrative Office of the Trial Court’s “Redesigning the Court’s Response to Prostitution” project. Drawing from her personal experience in “the Life”, Ms. Morrissey seeks to help vulnerable girls avoid being recruited into the commercial sex industry and/ or leave exploitation behind them. To this end, Ms. Morrissey facilitates My Life My Choice exploitation prevention groups throughout Greater Boston, as well as trains service providers in Massachusetts and nationally on recognizing the signs of exploitation and helping girls exit. In addition, she works individually mentoring girls who are victims of CSEC or are deemed high risk. Ms. Morrissey is a 2008 recipient of the prestigious Petra Foundation Fellowship and a 2012 recipient of The Philanthropic Initiative’s Boston Neighborhood Fellows Award.

T Ortiz

T Ortiz, a.k.a. Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, is an Anti-Trafficking Activist, and Lived Experience Consultant. T is a leading force in advocating for the civil and social rights of all people, with specialized expertise in highlighting the intersectionality between the child welfare system and domestic child sex trafficking. In 2014, T was named one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the world”, a TIME Magazine “30 under 30” in 2013, and a GLAMOUR Magazine “Woman of the Year” in 2011. Her advocacy has influenced many organizations including The United Nations, Google, The U.S. Congress, The White House, The American Bar Association, The Aspen Institute, and The Johns Hopkins Institution. Notably, she has lead a TEDx talk on Exploring Sexuality after Trauma and has successfully petitioned the Associated Press to utilize practices conscious of survivor trauma and circumstance with her #NoSuchThingAsAChildProstitute Campaign. T is a recent Magna Cum Laude graduate from Morgan State University with a degree in Strategic Communications.

Dr. Alexandra "Sandi" Pierce

Dr. Alexandra (Sandi) Pierce is an applied sociologist of Seneca and European descent, holding master’s and doctoral degrees in Sociology from University of Minnesota. In 2009, she authored Shattered Hearts, the first research ever published in the United States on commercial sexual exploitation of American Indian girls and women. She developed sex trafficking training curricula for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, and convened and facilitated a Survivors’ Advisory Group for the Minnesota Department of Health’s Safe Harbor Initiative. Dr. Pierce’s work is grounded in her experiences as a survivor of child sex trafficking and adult sex and labor trafficking, where she experienced brutal physical and psychological torture for more than a decade. She escaped her trafficker in 1979, focused first on healing, then entered college in 1985. She completed her doctorate in 2001 and was employed as a research scientist by the Minnesota Department of Health and Wilder Research Center until 2008, when she began working with nonprofits as an independent research consultant. She now has 20 years’ experience conducting research and program evaluation focused on Native women’s experiences with sexual violence and trafficking. She currently serves on Shared Hope International’s Advisory Council and is a member of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Expert Working Group.

Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman

Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman is currently the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Manager at the King County Department of Community and Human Services. Suamhirs was the Survivors Services Program Manager at the International Rescue Committee and led the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network, Family Wellness, and Gender Equity Programs. Suamhirs graduated from the University of California San Diego with a Master's in Psychology. He has years of experience developing curriculum and providing training on trauma-informed care, mental health, human trafficking, evidence-based practices, and more to Child Welfare Systems and non-profit organizations across 38 states. Suamhirs’ professional experience also includes direct services to vulnerable youth, program management, policy advocacy around foster care and human trafficking, and co-coordination of the National Survivor Network. As a male survivor and an expert in behavioral psychology, Suamhirs has been an active consultant for the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, a subject matter expert Consultant for the Department of Health and Human Services National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistant Center, the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators.  He is a member of the National Council for Community Behavioral Health and is currently a consultant for NCMEC’s Expert Working Group. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and has worked with the United Nations and Vital Voices International to develop curriculum and training on engaging men in gender-based violence initiatives. 

Kate Price

Kate Price, Ph.D. is a Visiting Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University where she is researching and publishing a writing project on the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Appalachia. She is also a researcher at a health and human services research and evaluation firm in New England. Price earned her doctorate in sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston in 2019 and completed her dissertation on state-level legislative decisions to prevent the arrest and prosecution of commercially sexually exploited minors for prostitution in the United States. She frequently collaborates with national and state-level policymakers and advocates to shape and draft trauma-informed CSEC policy and practice. Price is currently a consultant for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and previously served on the ECPAT-USA Advisory Board. She was also a Big Sister with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston and a foster parent with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. 

Christine Stark

Christine Stark is a Native (Anishinaabe & Cherokee) award-winning writer, researcher, visual artist, and national and international speaker. Her first novel, Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation, was a Lambda Literary Finalist. Her essays, poems, academic writing, and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications, including The Palgrave International Handbook on Trafficking, University of Pennsylvania Law Review; Dignity Journal; The WIP; Florida Review; The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prize-Winning Essays; When We Became Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwest Experience; Hawk and Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability; and many others. Her poem, "Momma's Song," was recorded by Fred Ho and the Afro Asian Music Ensemble as a double manga CD. She is also a co-editor of Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography; and a co-author of the ground-breaking research "Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota." Primary research she conducted with Native women survivors of prostitution and trafficking on the ships in Duluth, Minnesota is included in her article “Strategies to Restore Justice for Sex Trafficked Native Women.” She is also co-author and co-researcher of “Evidence of Survivor, Agency, and Researcher Collaboration: An Example of an Emerging Model of Survivor Wellbeing.”  

Her writing has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. In 2012 she was named a “Changemaker” by the Women’s Press and was a Loft Series Mentor Finalist. In 2019 she received the International Social Justice Citizen Award from the International Leadership Institute. She has appeared in numerous media, including NPR, MPR, PBS, Justice Talking, and Robin Morgan’s radio show. She has spoken at law schools, conferences, rallies, and at the United Nations (four times). She has taught writing and humanity courses at universities and community colleges for 18 years and worked as a Two-Spirit program director at Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center. Currently, she facilitates art and writing groups at Breaking Free in St. Paul, consults with a variety of local and national organizations, and teaches writing and literature at Anoka Ramsey Community College. She is a member of the Minnesota Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Taskforce and serves as an Expert Consultant for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Expert Working Group.   She has an MFA in Writing and an MSW. Her second novel, Carnival Lights, will be published July 1, 2021. Click here to pre-order a copy.  For more information: www.christinestark.com 

Mark (Marq) Taylor

Mark (Marq) Taylor is a victim advocate in the fight against domestic minor sex trafficking and shares his own story of victimization to educate others about this horrific crime. He is mobilizing his church in Georgia to address the issue. Mr. Taylor was 11 years old when he met a man who offered to be the mentor he so badly wanted and needed. Instead, the man coerced him into commercial sexual exploitation and trafficked him from age 11 to 17. He finally escaped by jumping from a window when five adult men arrived to participate in his abuse. Today, Mr. Taylor made the journey from victim to survivor to overcomer and advocate. He participates in the Georgia Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force and collaborates with national organizations, such as Shared Hope International.  Mr. Taylor is an expert consultant for the Nation Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Survivor Expert Working Group and provides leadership from a survivor’s perspective in the effort to protect children from sex trafficking. He speaks at various conferences and churches across the country raising awareness and telling his story.  

Mr. Taylor was a presenter at the 2013 and 2018 Shared Hope conference. He also spoke at a human trafficking conference at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and continues to participate in conferences for local organizations. Mr. Taylor is the chairperson for membership of the National Survivors Network (NSN). Membership has increased by more than 80 percent since he has been in that role.  

Mr. Taylor started a website for his organization called The Buddy House, Inc., and is seeking funding and a location to open a drop-in center for young boys and men who are survivors of human trafficking to receive services that will allow them to return to the community as productive citizens. Mr. Taylor has his Master’s Degree in Elementary Education.  is responsible for the coordination and leadership of NCMEC’s Family Advocacy Division and has decades of experience in the fields of mental health and child welfare, in both the public and private sector, including more than 25 years with NCMEC and nine years with the Virginia Beach Department of Social Services as a Service Delivery Coordinator and Social Work Supervisor. She also served as an adjunct professor at Norfolk State University for two years. She holds a Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Louisville and Bachelor of Science with a major in sociology from West Virginia State University.

Law Enforcement Spotlight

FBI, San Jose PD and Seattle PD

A patron on a flight from Seattle to San Jose noticed a man texting about sexually abusing children and immediately reported it to airline staff who told police. Authorities responded quickly; by the time the flight landed, they were already waiting to take the man into custody. Seattle and San Jose Police teamed-up with the FBI to uncover many more offenses by the man and his female accomplice, including possession of child sexual assault material. FBI Special Agent Ingrid Arbuthnot-Stohl says this case shows how law enforcement agencies and the public can “come together as a team to help children.”

Trisha Cannon

Special Agent with the Child Exploitation & Computer Crimes Unit, Georgia Bureau of Investigation

After finding a suspicious advertisement on a website known for human trafficking, Special Agent Trisha Cannon knew she had to rescue the 14-year-old girl featured in the ad. Cannon says, “it’s hard for a child to stand up to an adult, but an adult can stand up for a child.” Over the course of several interviews, Cannon developed a relationship with the girl and was able to gather enough evidence to identify her trafficker and put him away for life. Canon provided evidence so robust that, she says, “the jury was out only 20 minutes” before coming to their final verdict. 

Michael Godfrey

Digital Forensic Examiner with US Army CID / Major Cybercrime Unit

Digital Forensic Examiner Michael Godfrey says he will never forget the moment he found evidence that the man who had hacked a former U.S. Army soldier’s accounts was also hoarding and producing child sexual assault material. “The blood drained out of me … I left my lab shaking,” Godfrey recalls. For the next several months, Godfrey closely examined thousands of pieces of evidence. Godfrey says that “the driving factor was making sure he didn’t hurt anymore kids.” Michael Godfrey’s work led to a 27-year conviction and the assurance that this man would never harm children again. 

Steven Hanson

Former Special Agent in Charge with the Department of Health and Human Services, Kansas City Region

“It had never been done,” says Former Special Agent in Charge Steven Hanson about a new DHHS initiative he created which led to the recovery of 42 children missing from state care and numerous criminal investigations in Missouri. Hanson says children who run away from state care are often “running from programs that are improperly managed or operated and that’s leading to the problem of runaways or sex trafficking”. In 2019, of the children who ran away from the care of social services and were reported to NCMEC, 16% were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Hanson’s initiative brings together state, local and federal law enforcement agencies to find these children and have them provide first-hand accounts of the abuse and neglect they faced. Hanson says, “It’s a big commitment” but, “I don’t know what’s more of a priority than a missing child or a vulnerable child.”

Carrie Landau

FBI Special Agent

The Crystal Lake Police Department and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with the FBI to find five-year-old AJ Freund when he was reported missing on April 18, 2019. Their skillful investigation quickly revealed horrific abuse of AJ by his own parents. FBI Special Agent Carrie Landau developed a rapport with the father who eventually confessed to AJ's murder and led investigators to his grave site. Landau says, “we just knew that one way or another we had to bring him home.” The selfless dedication of investigators from three different agencies resulted in prison sentences for both his parents. 

Justin Rotili

Special Investigator with Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office

Jason Guyton

Special Agent with Homeland Security Investigations, Cleveland

Special Investigator Justin Rotili and Special Agent Jason Guyton identified at least 100 children located all over the world who were targeted online by the same man. Rotili and Guyton conducted interviews with several of the children who were sexually exploited and gathered enough evidence to convict their abuser. Rotili says his desire to “get true justice for these kids” is what kept him going throughout a difficult and complicated investigation. Guyton believes, “helping kids is about the most important thing I’ve ever done with my life.”  

Industry Spotlight

Ben Butler

Former head of Trust and Safety at GoDaddy

In Loving Memory: Ben Butler was a supporter of NCMEC and the former head of Trust and Safety at GoDaddy. He was a pioneer in this area and one of the early fighters against online child sexual exploitation. 

Ben’s mission for over 15 years was to help keep the internet safer for children and he did just that. He made it his personal mission to fight online child sexual exploitation - from seeking technology solutions to complex issues facing child safety to leading the charge and creating best practices and policies that have been adapted industry wide, Ben worked every day to ensure a better and safer place for kids around the world. 

Ben’s influence has been felt throughout the technology industry and his work has made a lasting impression and global change in the fight against online child sexual abuse.