The epitome of student activist, Serena Curry balances an overflowing course load, multiple student leadership positions and an internship at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. A self-described feminist who is wrapping up her senior year at Loyola University Chicago, Serena’s work as an activist is really just beginning.
Serena first learned about human trafficking when an attorney visited her high school class. She immediately began doing research and writing papers about the issue. "I'm a total maniac who doesn't stop talking and educating people,” Serena said. “I'm passionate about it, and I'm interested in pursuing this type of work for my career.”
At Loyola she has gravitated toward people and causes that aligned with her beliefs: She co-founded Loyola's chapter of Free the Slaves and became a member of Women in Leadership. Her junior year, Serena sought out an internship at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. She was drawn to CAASE's mission to end sexual harm and hold perpetrators accountable. "CAASE is dedicated to issues that are so prevalent in our society, but not enough people are paying attention," she said.
Serena worked with CAASE's advocacy director, Lynne Johnson, to bring resources to rape crisis centers in Cook County. First, she mapped out rape crisis services by district. She then worked with Lynne to lobby the county commissioners to allocate more funding to centers that needed it. As she sat in meetings and observed, Serena soaked up all she could. "It was a really cool experience," she said.
Their advocacy efforts paid off, with $275,000 being allocated to the rape crisis centers. Now Serena's following up by interviewing staff members and survivors to find out how the funding has helped. The experience of interviewing survivors of sexual assault in these crisis centers made big impression on Serena. "Women have told me that without these services, their lives would be very different,” Serena said. "It's cool because that funding is something I worked on for a long time, and now these women are getting what they need."
Serena is also very interested in the End Demand Illinois campaign. “We're pioneering a movement to end the demand for prostitution," she said. "We're the only organization of our kind doing this work. It's incredible because we have made Illinois a model for the rest of the country for how women and children should be treated.”
When Serena's classmates and friends ask her about her work to fight sex trafficking, she has stats ready to share. "I usually talk about the number of people who are involved. There are as many as 25,000 people involved in prostitution in Chicago alone. I explain that this is something happening down the street."
Serena is well-versed in the issues surrounding victims of prostitution, and she’s very persuasive. “Just like we work to raise awareness for survivors of rape, we need to raise awareness about survivors of prostitution," she said.
Last year at Loyola, Serena worked with Women in Leadership at Loyola to put together a panel discussion about sex trafficking. She also worked with the Bandana Project, which raises awareness about sexual assault among migrant farm workers. "Women working in the fields cover their faces so they'll be less susceptible to sexual assault," she said. She rallied a group to decorate bandanas and display them to raise awareness, and the project will continue this Spring.
Serena will graduate in December, and she's looking for internships, fellowships and other positions so she can continue to work on the issues of sex trafficking and modern day slavery. Her dream is to do a year of service, then to get her master's degree in social work so she can ear more about working in the nonprofit sector. "I'm trying to be as involved in the movement as I can," she said.
To learn more about interning with CAASE, visit www.caase.org.