Athens nonprofit opens educational sex trafficking experience

Chanda Santana, founder of DIVAS Who Win Freedom Center, a nonprofit that seeks to help women overcoming sex trafficking, addiction and prostitution, cut the ribbon on the Freedom Experience, an immersive walk-through educating individuals on the steps to and through sex trafficking, on Sept. 23.

The walk-through experience was broken into seven phases providing context to the steps that lead to, through and toward surviving sex trafficking. During the walk-through, individuals wore headphones, listening to a narrator and seeing different visuals like props and real photographs.

The walk-through of the seven different phases added “a closer look into the creative and evil minds” of a trafficker, Santana said.

“The mission at DIVAS is to support folks like my family … Women who are overcoming substance use disorder, prostitution and sex work and those who are survivors of human trafficking,” Santana said.

Substance abuse is common among sex trafficking survivors. DIVAS Who Win serve over 150 women each month on average struggling with substance abuse and trauma from sex trafficking, according to its website.

In order for DIVAS Who Win and the Freedom Experience to serve the community, people must not turn their heads the other way, Santana said. The Freedom Experience aims to create an educated and supportive community surrounding sex trafficking and its survivors.

Santana wants to “create a platform where women can develop intentional victory and success,” she said.

Creating a community around and among survivors is one of the main goals for DIVAS Who Win, and the Freedom Experience directly serves this goal. Not only does the community lift one another up, it provides safety and security, something many of the survivors have never felt.

The walk-through is one way to educate the community about the sex trafficking process. Santana’s daughter is the victim of sex trafficking in Atlanta in the exhibit. Learning through the phases, individuals will understand that the path to sex trafficking begins in childhood and the healing will continue on long after being freed.

Natasha Ganem, leadership coach at Lion Leadership, said “the community needs to be awake” in regards to the sex trafficking crisis. The Freedom Experience will provide crucial community support and education, according to Ganem. 

As Santana and Ganem brainstormed about how to get people to engage in the Freedom Experience, the first thought was groups, like businesses, clubs and sororities.

The one-to-many effect means that once one group attends the Freedom Experience walk-through, they challenge another group to attend, creating a domino effect. Ganem compared the challenge as similar to the ALS ice bucket challenge.

“We want individual community members to come and engage in this experience so that they are aware and it provides that 20 minutes that might just change the trajectory otherwise,” Ganem said.

A dream goal for Santana is to have a Freedom Experience walk-through in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The airport in Atlanta is one of the largest sex trafficking hubs in the world. Santana believes providing an educational walk-through for frequent travelers is a way to prevent sex trafficking and add awareness in the airport.

Only 28 minutes of an educational walk-through during layovers could save someone’s life. Understanding the signs of a trafficker, how to help and what to do is important in major hubs like airports.

The Freedom Experience is one step closer to the ultimate goal of DIVAS Who Win. A walk-through brings people in, creating an engaged community. The Freedom Experience is a crucial step in the progress of DIVAS Who Win.

“You have the power to muster up the courage to come to the experience. What I’m really encouraging is that Athens, Georgia, gets to be this beautiful, creative, innovative space where your ideas around this experience are wonderful,” Santana said.

Looking forward, DIVAS Who Win plans to expand further. By 2025, the goal is to have a home where survivors will live, rent free, for two years. In those two years, survivors will gain all the tools necessary to survive on their own.

Rehabilitation, therapy, work experience and community will be provided for survivors within this home.

“Being a part of this experience is incredible because we get to help people get into trauma meetings, AA meetings and [access] resources,” said Tashawna Willoughby, who serves on the board of directors for DIVAS Who Win.

Santana constantly preaches about community. She strongly believes that, with an engaged and educated community, DIVAS Who Win will thrive. Community support is a necessary tool in the growth of DIVAS Who Win and the Freedom Experience is the stepping stone to reach the community.