On May 25, LifeWay Network had the honor of presenting Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, with the 2017 Freedom Award. Throughout her extraordinary career, Taina has shown enormous courage and tenacity as her advocacy has succeeded in bringing about laws such as Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and the New York State Human Trafficking Act. Here are some excerpts from her inspiring acceptance speech.
Happy Birthday LifeWay! What a proud moment to be here. This is a celebration of our collective work. My daily work focuses on legal advocacy and coalition-building, so I remain in awe of all my colleagues-at-large who are direct service providers who offer trauma-informed care and legal representation. I bow to you.
I thought I would share a few thoughts about the concept of dignity, a gift that LifeWay Network strives to return to the women, providing them with tools as they rebuild their lives through healing and empowerment.
I first learned about dignity in my mother’s eyes. I could not name it then, but instinctively understood it in the way she carried herself and in her desire to maintain it. She hailed from Haiti as a young woman fleeing the Papa Doc regime with barely five words of English in her pocket. Like every immigrant, she was filled with dreams for a better life. When I was born on the Upper West Side, she worked in a belt factory in the garment district and later became a bookkeeper.
By the time I was 5, she let me sit quietly at the kitchen table where all the women in my world would gather and exchange boisterous laughter, but also, invariably, someone at that table had stories of sexual harassment, domestic violence, daily humiliations in a foreign land that wounded their dignity as women, as human beings. Thankfully, no one to my knowledge had been prostituted or trafficked, but it was already clear to me that sexual violence took many forms and was always about power and control.
LifeWay knows these women around the kitchen table of my childhood and understands that when women suffer violence, especially sexual violence, dignity becomes elusive to them. Without dignity, we shrivel up or lash out; we can feel hopeless, ashamed, scared or defeated. But defeat is not an option.
Let me conclude with an additional thought about language. We are steeped in the vocabulary of conflict, even if we treasure the parts of ourselves that use words of war as tools in our work. For example, I would identify Sr. Joan and her colleagues as warriors for justice. Every day, we get ready for battle; we fight for resources and for the truth. We list our enemies on a weekly basis, devising strategies to defeat them. Our language reflects our evolution as human beings fighting for space, warring for limited resources and for power.
We must go instead deep into our creativity and imaginations to create a new framework, which is not about scarcity, but about love, faith, courage and dignity. I wish I had the answers, any answer. Until then, let us rise to the challenge of ensuring dignity for all. Let us rise to connect with people and institutions that have not gained an understanding that women and girls are full human beings, worthy of living a life free of violence, of discrimination; worthy of a life in which she can reach her full potential without fearing or experiencing the most abject sexual and psychological violence.
Thank you, Sr. Joan and everyone at LifeWay and the Board for restoring dignity to the women you serve, for rebuilding their community and restoring their faith in humanity’s kindness and love. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this honor.
Happy Birthday, LifeWay Network! May you prosper and live on for decades to come.