Ethical Storytelling Initiative: “Mari”

*Mari is a 34-year-old “grateful woman in sobriety” who loves thrifting and supporting slow fashion and sustainability. She also loves sudoku puzzles and, even before joining AnnieCannons, had “an affinity for coding since early Myspace days.”

Yet, rather than pursuing her love for code, Mari found herself fighting addiction and an eating disorder at the age of 15, conditions that stemmed from sexual trauma. By the time Mari was a high school senior, she was living on her own. It was during this time period when she met someone who recruited her into “the life.” 

Mari is not alone. Evidence shows that addiction, among other risk factors, can increase an individual’s vulnerability to being trafficked, and is used as a “tool of coercion” by traffickers to entrap and control their victims. At the same time, substance use disorder can serve as a lifeline for victims’ survival, and a means to help them cope “with the physical and psychological traumas of being trafficked.” Mari concurs, recalling that her addiction and eating disorder “helped me to disassociate from the person I had to be in order to survive.” 

By the time Mari discovered AnnieCannons, she had already gotten out of the life, found sobriety, and earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Social Work while working at a local shelter for trafficking survivors. Yet, she was also facing financial challenges and the constant fear of being “found out” at every job she had. Mari describes her acceptance into AnnieCannons as a life-defining moment. 

“I freaked out!” she recalls, when learning about AnnieCannons. Yet, it wasn’t until the first virtual cohort was offered earlier this year that her coding dream became reality. “I had a tough relationship with the internet due to the nature of my exploitation, and I feared that I wouldn’t be taken seriously in a male dominated industry…but when I saw what AC did, I knew it was my way in.”

It was only six months ago that coding was akin to magic for Mari: a mysterious, supernatural power that was impossibly out of reach. Since then, she has mastered digital literacy, built websites, and is now learning how to create web applications. While she still considers coding to be “magical,” she admits she has also “seen behind the curtain of OZ” and fully embraces her transformation into a “coding magician.”

When asked about what she looks forward to in the next stage, Mari wants to explore ways to incorporate her love of social work and programming. She aims high, and aspires to “work with local nonprofits that show young girls and nonbinary kids how rad STEM is and how it can be accessible to all.” 

Today, Mari is honoring both her passion and her younger self by pursuing this dream.

“My journey at AnnieCannons has been empowering and rewarding. Every step I take forward is a small reminder that I can do things I never thought possible. The pain of my past feels the freedom of my present, and I am so proud of how far we both have come and where we are headed.”

*Name has been changed to protect the survivor’s identity and privacy.

Our 2021 Ethical Storytelling Initiative was developed in partnership with the Dressember Foundation.