Human Trafficking Awareness Month – Interview with Amy-Marie Merrell, The Cupcake Girls

Since 2010, January has been recognized as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This month is an opportunity to highlight the need for education on trafficking, challenge common misconceptions, and reflect on the biases that show through our work. It’s important to familiarize ourselves with the resources available to victim-survivors and advocates. Organizations like The Cupcake Girls work tirelessly to eradicate human trafficking by creating safe spaces for victim-survivors and advocating for social equity.


In honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, NCEDSV’s Communications Coordinator, Naomi Thompson, interviewed Amy-Marie Merrell, the Co-Director of The Cupcake Girls. Amy has worked with victim-survivors of domestic violence since 2006 and relocated to Las Vegas from Portland in 2011. She defines sex trafficking as: when someone is forced, manipulated, or coerced into sex work.



N: What are some common misconceptions about sex trafficking?

A: “Most people don’t know that a majority of people being trafficked are coming directly out of our foster system. They don’t know the majority of human trafficking is happening in our homes – with parents, grandparents, family members, dads, and moms, who are trafficking their own kids. And because of the way our school system is, and because we have non-comprehensive, opt-in sex education, we aren’t able to give kids the tools to be able to call out their predators. It’s sick and disgusting to me.


The most common misconception is that all people being trafficked need to be rescued. You can’t truly have a trauma-informed approach and look at things with an intersectional lens if you have not taken the time to heal yourself enough to view things without the binary. Sex work isn’t good and it’s not bad. It’s a job.


In an effort to stop sex trafficking, people tend to say that we need to stop porn, teenage sex, or abortions when really we need to abolish systems- colonialism, capitalism, racism, and the patriarchy.


If we want to have a decent conversation about ending trafficking, why don’t we see some rich people open their pocketbooks and start paying livable wages? They’re putting people in positions of poverty where they’re not able to support their families. If you don’t want to see someone do sex work, pay their bills.


The other misconception is that a majority of traffickers are male or Black. That’s not the case. So many of them are white women and that’s something that’s not talked about.”


N: How can advocates take a more trauma-informed approach to supporting survivors of human trafficking?

A: “I think understanding that you are not a savior of anybody and you can’t save anybody from anything. Also, understand that you are being invited to and should feel honored to be sharing the space of somebody who is actively trying to achieve whatever goal it is they have. Make sure you’re really listening to them and hearing what they’re saying, without imposing your own ideas on what’s important. That includes naming their trauma. We don’t name other people’s trauma. If somebody is being trafficked, they need to name that for themselves.


We need to make sure we’re listening to, learning from, and reading books from BIPOC women with lived experience. I recommend diving deep into Sonio Renee Taylor’s “The Body is Not an Apology.


As advocates, we need to look for opportunities to learn from sex workers and trafficking survivors, understand the differences and intersections of both, and firmly do deep work on ourselves so that we do not accidentally impose our own biases and frameworks of what we feel the world is. We have to be listening to what other folks are telling us, we have to listen to the truth of their story and not impose what we believe to be true.”


N: Is there anything you want advocates to know about human trafficking awareness, and supporting survivors of human trafficking that we haven’t covered?

A: “For us to be able to help people, we need to look at abolishing laws like SESTA/FOSTA, that are creating a lot of harm for people who are being trafficked. It’s giving them fewer opportunities to work safely, and their pimps don’t care about their safety anyways. So repealing SESTA/FOSTA would be great and if they haven’t looked into that, yet they should.”


According to[1], SESTA/FOSTA holds online providers liable for posts that can be perceived as advertising sex on their sites, forcing social media platforms to censor user-generated content. This set of laws implies that consensual sex work and human trafficking are the same. Without the safety of online resources, sex workers can be forced into vulnerable positions, pushed onto the street, and subject to harassment.


Amy also recommends the following resources for advocates:


The National Survivor Network – A community led by survivors of human trafficking engaging in leadership in the movement using a public health, human rights, and harm reduction approach.

Freedom Network USA – A survivor-led organization which takes a transformative approach to human trafficking, grounded in anti-racism and anti-oppression. They offer annual conferences and trainings for advocates.



[1]What is Sesta/Fosta?. Decriminalize Sex Work. (2023, June 3).,Communications%20Decency%20Act%20of%201996.