A COLLEGE COURSE ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING AT MSU DENVER BROUGHT MARY LANDERHOLM A STARTLING REALIZATION ABOUT HER LIFE.
Landerholm is a trafficking survivor who now has no interest in sitting on the sidelines in the fight against the abuse and violence she experienced.
As the community organizer for the nonprofit Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, she works tirelessly to engage with Denver community stakeholders and Colorado leaders to implement anti-trafficking efforts and to encourage other survivors to share not just their stories but their expertise in combating a crime they know better than anyone else.
In her mid-20s, Landerholm became vulnerable to trafficking as she battled homelessness and struggled with basic survival needs. She endured relationships out of necessity and was taken across state lines unwillingly at one point. After fleeing that situation, she found herself living with a couple who were taking in women experiencing homelessness and exploiting them for labor. When she fled that house with a cross-country bus ticket from her home state of Illinois to Denver to reunite with her mother, she left behind 13 other women like her.
“I had no language or knowledge that this was what I had experienced, because in 1999 we weren’t talking about this in this realm,” says Landerholm, a 2014 MSU Denver Master of Social Work graduate.
“I came to Colorado in 2005, about dead, not only from my own trauma but also having been given a different language and knowledge of what had happened to me,” Landerholm says. “I was just trying to move on with my life. I got here, and education was my way of healing in some sense. I knew I wanted to be a social worker, but I had no intentions of working in this. I didn’t even know what ‘this’ was.”
As a member of the Training Standards and Curriculum Task Force of the Colorado Human Trafficking Council, established by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014, she helps inform training for law enforcement and service providers. She also consults on training for the Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center and the Office of Victims of Crime in Washington.
And as an affiliate faculty member at MSU Denver, Landerholm teaches the same human-trafficking course that once reframed her entire life. The course, housed in the Human Services Department, was one of the first such undergraduate human-trafficking courses in the nation. The multidisciplinary course incorporates Criminal Justice, Gender and Women’s Sexualities Studies, Social Work and other departments to better grasp a complex crime and combat it in the real world.
“I don’t share my personal experience in my class until the very end, because it changes the way people see me,” Landerholm says. “Being able to teach from not only my own experience but also my academic background and what I’ve learned in the professional realm as a social worker has positioned me well to deliver this in a way that is different from someone who hasn’t had this experience, in a way that’s authentic and respectful.”
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