[Update on Polina] "I want to fight for justice and equality."
Recent news stories about the implementation of two state laws in New York that altered how law enforcement approaches sex work have shined a light on the relentless commitment of trafficking survivors and advocacy groups that have been working for decades to fight for the rights of victims and survivors.
We caught up with Polina Ostrenkova, a former survivor leader of Covenant House New York (CHNY), who worked as a youth intern with CHNY’s anti-human trafficking department under the direction of Jayne Bigelsen, CHNY’s vice president of advocacy and anti-trafficking initiatives. Although Polina is no longer enrolled in the internship, she loves to designate her time working in projects for Covenant House.
Polina is determined to rise above her past difficult circumstances as a young person who has experienced labor trafficking. Instead of falling into despair, as many would, Polina marshals the resilience she needed to overcome her prior experiences to thrive, further her education, and help others. Her intention to fight for justice is to make the world a better place and help those who have been unfairly treated.
Below is an updated version of the story she first shared with us in 2021.
When I first got to Covenant House, I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. I had just run from a hostile, dangerous situation, where I was surrounded by bad influences. I did not have control of my own life and that is a terrible feeling.
Some time has passed since I was in the predicament. And, life is starting to look like normal. I have grown and gained some experience over the past years. I have gained respect in society by simply saying " I care." I think we need to advocate for people who have no voice or power to protect themselves, and it's very hard doing it on your own.
I am so grateful to two amazing, strong women in particular who are walking with me on my journey. One is my emigration lawyer, Sabrina Talukder, who was the first person who believed in me and supported me when my life felt like it was crashing down.
And the other is my mentor Jayne Bigelsen, who is helping me to learn more about law policy, advocacy work, and how to develop new projects to make the change in the world I want to make.
When I came to CHNY they provided me with immediate services and helped me to understand how to navigate my life. Before I was living in stress and fear. There have been periods in my life when I felt apathy and disempowerment, but I’ve always known what I want from life and what I should do in order to succeed and now I am working towards those goals every day.
The risk of being exploited in human trafficking falls on vulnerable females, children and sometimes males who also are lacking family support. We live in a world where everybody’s role is different, but it doesn’t make somebody less important because of their race, gender, ethnicity, economic and social background. We need to provide support so more young people don’t get caught in trafficking rings where there is so much suffering.
What I have experienced at Covenant House for the first time is unconditional love – a combination of giving something without asking for anything back. Unconditional love is doing things with pure intentions and with no regrets and no false promises. I think respect is so important, and I always approach people the way I would want to be approached by them.
I’m grateful to Covenant House and those people who help others overcome difficulties. As I continue to grow I will continue to educate myself and will advocate for people. I want to fight for justice and equality.