Emily Aikins makes the world a better place every day. She works with human trafficking survivors at Second Life Chattanooga.
Emily, director of survivor services, and her team at Second Life create spaces of trust and security for survivors to process and heal. “These women and men have been through a lot, and healing does not happen overnight,” Emily said.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, minors are the most frequent victims of human trafficking in the state. Victims need access to trauma specialists.
There is a vacuum of services for victims of human trafficking, and Emily is on the frontlines. Never in her dreams, though, would she have thought she would be working with society’s most vulnerable.
Emily’s journey to Second Life began years ago as a whisper when she discovered her heart for teenagers.
While at college in Indiana, Emily worked with local high schoolers through Campus Life. She loved befriending these students and meeting them where they were at–brokenness and all. “These kids instantaneously stole my heart,” Emily said.
She found much of her time filled with these kids amidst laughter and tears, sharing their joys and their sorrows. Emily walked with teenagers through the best of times and, in some cases, the worst of times.
“These kids were funny, fearless and asked questions I didn’t have answers to,” Emily began. “I was honored to become the person in their lives with whom they felt safe. I found that I wanted to develop a professional toolset to help guide other students like the ones I got to know.”
She decided to pursue a graduate degree in counseling.
The spring semester before she graduated, Emily went to Preview Day at Richmont Graduate University’s campuses in Atlanta and Chattanooga. She liked the small class-size and the real-world counseling experience from on-site internships.
She chose to relocate to the Chattanooga campus. Emily began classes in the Scenic City where she learned a wide variety of psychological theories and perspectives, including human sexuality, which would later inform her work with human trafficking victims.
After graduating from Richmont with a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, Emily worked as a counselor at Georgia HOPE and then the Bradley County Juvenile Court, working with teens.
“While in the juvenile court system, there were lots of hard moments,” Emily said. “The kids I worked with in the juvenile justice system look like problems to the rest of society. The focus was on the punishment for their behaviors. Instead, I was driven to discover the motive behind these behaviors. There was a larger story at play. They have been dealing with trauma their entire lives.”
She saw firsthand the results of lifelong trauma. Luckily, Emily was equipped to care for them well.
“I learned from classes at Richmont how to look survivors in the eyes and let them know they are a person, not a problem to figure out what to do with,” Emily said. “Everyone has a story. These were individuals who have lived really hard lives. And I was able to see and hear the humanity in the situations, and help them rewrite their stories moving forward.”
These experiences caused Emily to look more deeply into trauma-related fields. She remembered the CEO of Second Life Chattanooga speaking at a class while in grad school about the prevalence and devastating trauma of human trafficking.
She pursued work with Second Life Chattanooga, and she was hired.
“As part of a statewide network, Second Life Chattanooga has helped to position Tennessee as the leading state in the country in the fight against human trafficking,” Emily said. “We do our work every day guided by hope, passion, and an unshakeable belief that we can and will see human trafficking defeated. I’m thankful for Richmont’s emphasis on working with survivors of trauma, because this has been the primary work of my career.”
Emily changes lives every day. She makes the world a better place today and for generations to come. It began with the decision to go to Richmont.
Come and find out how you could change the lives of individuals forever. Learn how a degree in counseling will equip you to better love and minister to the hurting and broken. Take your first step. Contact Richmont.