Brooke Elise Axtell: Artist, songwriter, poet and survivor

Brooke Elise Axtell talks about using creative arts to heal from the tragedy of sex trafficking.

WASHINGTON, DC, October 10, 2012 - As a survivor of sex trafficking myself, I am drawn to, and feel a sisterhood and kinship with, other survivors. I am always searching for ways to heal from my own past experience with trafficking and also to offer ways for other victims and survivors to begin their own journey towards healing.

I met recently with an amazing woman, Brooke Alise Axtell, who is an inspirational poet, author and activist in addition to being a survivor.  Brooke was forced into sex trafficking at the early age of seven years old. We talked and I asked her some questions about how she has been able to learn to heal from her tragedy, and here are some of her wonderful answers.

How did you become an advocate for women, survivors of abuse, violence, incest and more? Can you tell me your personal story, just a few facts that you are comfortable with?

Brooke:  I was sexually assaulted and forced into sex-trafficking in Dallas, Texas at the age of 7. The perpetrator was a male nanny who was responsible for my care at that time. As a result of the tremendous fear and shame I experienced, I did not feel free to disclose my abuse until many years later.

Through writing and activism, I found a healing path, a way to honor my experience and encourage other survivors. As I started to share my story and reach out for help, I met women engaged in the recovery process who did not see their own worth and creative power. This awakened my fierce desire to fight for them, to remind them how valuable they are. Eventually, I came to a point where I realized that I had to embody in my own life what I wanted for all the women I loved.

Contributing my essay “What I Know of Silence” to “Dancing at The Shame Prom” is the next step in my healing path. It is the first time I have shared my story in a public space.

When we bring every trace of shame into the light, we become fearless and free.

My passion is encouraging other survivors in the process of creative recovery, helping women find ways to transform their pain into healing power. The arts provide essential medicine for the wounded soul.

Artistic expression invites us to gives voice to the silenced places. For me, it is the beginning of wholeness, where I learned to dance with the shadow and no longer live in fear.

You’re so talented.  You are an artist, songwriter, poet and so much more.  What is your favorite form of creative expression? Also which one or two of your own favorite pieces would you like to share with readers? (Please go to Brooke’s link below to read her poetry.)

Brooke:  My most recent collection of poetry, Kore of the Incantation, explores many facets of the healing path, including the reclamation of the Sacred Feminine. It is a deeply intimate work, offering a multiplicity of voices and visions that chart the movement from woman as a victim of violence to woman as a creator of change.

I am thrilled to be a part of “Dancing at the Shame Prom,” an anthology of essays by such courageous, insightful women. Our visionary editors, Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter, invited each of us to share a story of overcoming shame. It was a tremendous risk to be so vulnerable, yet ultimately it was liberating, a source of joy.

Here is an excerpt from my essay:

“Isolation is an illusion. So many of us have suffered through violence against our bodies, souls and minds. I hope that by sharing my story and what I’ve learned through recovery, women will be inspired to break open their silences. Suffering can be the seed of awakening. When we awaken, we encourage others to do the same.

Sexual assault sends the message that our voices and our desires do not matter. Creative expression provides a sacred space for honoring the truth of our experience, so we can begin to heal. In the midst of my pain, I sensed that if could draw pictures of the abuse, write about the abuse and bring every trace of shame into the light, it could not destroy me. No matter what happened, I could bear witness and embrace myself with tenderness.

This is what I went underground to find: the root of the root, the core of my need, a defiant love that would not let me go. Step by step, I have reconnected with my power and worth. I have forged the path of a radical recovery: the transformative power of inner healing that gives birth to social justice. In my work as an advocate for survivors of gender violence, I have the opportunity to help women reclaim their creative gifts. Through their poetry, music, visual art, films and jewelry, I see their resilience and dignity. I know a woman is healing when she starts to value her own voice as I now value my own.

In our deepest shame, we all are all just children hungry for love. The hunger is wise. Let it lead you home.”

Can you tell me what you use in your multi-media performances for anyone who is not familiar with them? Who and or what have been some of your inspirations for your artwork, besides your own experiences?

Brooke:  In my multi-media performances, I integrate spoken word, music, projections of art and photography, movement as well as more direct narratives about the issue of gender violence. I am inspired by activist/artists, such as Eve Ensler and countless women who are devoted both to their craft and social justice. I admire Tori Amos, who is not only a powerful composer and performer, but also the founder of Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN). I am honored to be a part of RAINN’s speaker’s bureau.

What’s new coming up for you? Any interesting future collaborations?

Brooke:  I contributed an essay to the forthcoming anthology “Blazes All Across the Sky: Writers Respond to the Poetry of Joni Mitchell.” The collection features some amazing writers, including Wally Lamb.

I wrote about Joni’s lyrics for the “Magdalene Laundries.” She created this song as a response to the tragedy of the Irish Catholic Church laundries that depended on the slave labor of women who were deemed “fallen”: prostitutes, unmarried mothers, victims of abuse.

Joni has such a stunning body of work and I am thrilled to be a part of the collection.

Can you give us the information on your event in New York?

Brooke:  I would love for you to join us for our book reading and signing for Dancing at the Shame at the Jewish Community Center Manhattan on October 11 at 7:00 pm. You can register for the event on the JCC website.

Creative art is one avenue to help survivors to begin to recover. When we are in touch with the artistic part of ourselves, we tap into the inner soul of our beings and reach the part of ourselves that remained pure and untouched no matter what happened externally to us. When we are in touch with our pure inner selves we can begin to heal because we begin to see that we remain untouched inside.

I learned so much from talking with this amazing survivor and artist about how being in touch with our creative soul can help victims and survivors of trafficking begin to heal from trauma.

To learn more about Brooke’s future projects, and to purchase any of her books or art work please visit Brooke’s website at

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Barbara Amaya

As a survivor of human trafficking Barbara Amaya speaks and writes from her experiences as a trafficked child. She has been published in varied media like Yahoo Voices! More magazine and her story of overcoming adversity has been featured on Fox News, Channel 4, Examiner, Animal New York, Washington Times and more.

She has a book in progress, A Girl’s Guide to Survival: Life Lessons from the Street, and has written a graphic novel about human trafficking targeted for middle and high school age students, you can get updates about Barbara her books and her activities in the anti-trafficking community at her website follow her on twitter barbaraamaya4 and on facebook, linkedin and google + and pinterest

Contact Barbara Amaya


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