Human Trafficking Survivor Honored as Woman of Achievement
Every year YWCA Columbus honors a new class of "Women of Achievement".
They are CEO's and legislators, elected leaders and grassroots activists.
But one of this year's honorees has a journey unlike any other.
Barbara Freeman knows darkness.
Hers was a life of desperation and depravity.
Her slide to life on the streets began when she was 16, a girl in search of something.
"Once I started drinking then smoking pot, and the next thing I was introduced to crack cocaine,” she said.
Before she knew it, she was an addict, under the control of drugs and pimps-- no longer a person, but a product to be sold on the streets.
"I started to feel worthless. I started to feel like nobody cares, nothing matters, so I never reported the rapes. I was just walking around like that for years," she said. "Once I was so far out there, I felt like life was gone for me. I just gave up."
April 8, 2009, was the day that changed.
The day of her final arrest. The day a Columbus Police Officer saw her for who she was.
"He was like, your life is...you're worthy. You're worthy of many things. And I know that behind that mask of addiction that you are so beautiful."
She was among the first women to be accepted into a then new program- Franklin County's CATCH Court.
She was the program's first graduate.
She's been sober and off the streets ever since.
“I'm coming up on five years,” she said. “…the greatest, best years of my life."
Though she turned a corner, she hasn't turned her back on those still out there.
"You stand with your sisters. This is how you stand. When you can't do nothing else, you stand with your sisters."
"Barb is out on the streets with her sleeves rolled up saving victims," said Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Paul Herbert. Herbert nominated Freeman as a YWCA Woman of Achievement.
Today Barb stands among a new group of sisters- CEO's, doctors, power players.
"She has probably overcome challenges and barriers and obstacles that we can never even dream of overcoming,” said YWCA Columbus President and CEO Elfi Di Bella. “So how could she not be a woman of achievement and how could we not be thrilled to honor her?"
"I pray about it, like ‘God give me the words to say’ or ‘help me stand strong as a woman’, to have confidence,” said Freeman of the honor. “And today I can say when I stepped in that room and looked around at those women, I said ‘wow, that's empowerment.’ And that's where I belong. I no longer down myself and think I don't deserve to stand next to them. Because today I do"
The YWCA has honored more than 230 "Women of Achievement" over the last 28 years.