By Dani Babineau
I first came to know of our non-profit for October, Living in Freedom Together (LIFT), last November as part of Leadership Worcester’s day focused on Perceptions of Safety & Community Relationships.
Our group had lunch at Cafe Reyes, a delightful Cuban cafe and restaurant (which also serves as an on-site training center for residents and graduates of the Hector Reyes house). While we ate, we heard from Nikki Bell, the founder and executive director of LIFT. Her honest, candid, and extremely hopeful telling of her own story was powerful and unforgettable - but just an introduction. The real story is the work that she and her team have done in only a few short years.
I’ll let the words of that team speak for themselves below, though I’ll add a point of emphasis on just what a remarkable accomplishment opening Jana’s Place is. They are crushing it and we could not be more proud to have this organization in Worcester.
What’s the mission of LIFT and what does the organization do?
Living In Freedom Together (LIFT) is a survivor-led organization comprised of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) and allies sensitive to the needs of this vulnerable and marginalized population. Our mission is to end prostitution by creating exit ramps for individuals in prostitution, targeting demand, and changing social norms regarding prostitution and prostituted individuals.
Our approach to ending systems of prostitution is based on the Equality Model and implementation of its six key components:
1) full decriminalization of those who are prostituted
2) high-quality services for those in prostitution
3) criminalizing the act of buying sex
4) strengthening anti-sex-trafficking legislation
5) addressing/decreasing on-ramps to prostitution and strengthening/increasing exit ramps
6) advocating for social change through coordination of public information campaigns, education and training, and coordination of laws, legislation, and services
This approach has now been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Ireland, and most recently, Israel.
Why is LIFT's mission important to the Worcester area?
As a city in transition, Worcester has a unique opportunity to take a different approach in the way we address commercial sexual exploitation through implementing the Equality Model. What is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession is actually the world’s oldest oppression. The story of CSE in Worcester is one rooted in childhood trauma and Substance Use Disorder.
What has LIFT accomplished that you’re most proud of?
In five years, LIFT has come a long way in expanding our Drop-In Center, starting the Creating Alternatives to Incarceration (CATI) Program with the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, and most recently, the opening of Jana’s Place, a residential recovery home.
Through all of this, we are proudest of our ability to offer gainful employment to over a dozen survivors of CSE. Seeing these women empowered, many of them through our programs, and now empowering others is an incredible thing.
How might donations from Redemption Rock customers help LIFT in the future?
Donations from Redemption Rock help to fill critical gaps and needs for our participants allowing us to produce the highest quality of services for our participants. While we are incredibly grateful for the grants we have received, there are a lot of things that grants don’t cover.
Does LIFT have any upcoming events that people should know about?
The Living In Freedom Together First Annual Self Care Fair takes place on October 19 from 10 am – 3 pm at the Blackstone Valley Regional Visitor in Worcester, MA.
This event is going to be a fun fall day exploring all forms of self care and bringing our community together. We’ll have exercise demonstrations, food, and a kids’ corner! Free admission and plenty of free parking!