Rhonelle Bruder lives by the words “Resilience is my superpower.” As a survivor of child sex trafficking, she has experienced first-hand the darkest parts of society and came out stronger on the other side. A thriving and compassionate young woman, Rhonelle has taken her experiences and channelled them into Project iRISE, a survivor-led organization that empowers at-risk youth and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Growing up, Rhonelle felt “othered” in her community and faced discrimination, anxiety and depression; she ended up dropping out of high school and running away at the age of 16, which put her on a path of sexual exploitation and recruitment into sex trafficking. Determined to rise up, she eventually managed to escape this life of abuse. Since then, Rhonelle has completed her GED and today holds an honours bachelor of science degree and a master of science degree in Health Informatics. She began volunteering in shelters, creating workshops for at-risk youth and sharing her story of survival and hope. These workshops led to the founding of Project iRISE and Rhonelle becoming an anti-trafficking expert, educating youth on human trafficking and gender-based violence prevention. She’s also created What Is Sex Trafficking?—an educational video that provides an overview of how sex trafficking works and how victims are targeted and then groomed. It is now used by law enforcement, child welfare services and the hospitality industry across Canada as an anti-trafficking educational tool.
Rhonelle’s relentless commitment, determination and dedication to survivors and young women affected by sex trafficking and violence have helped to shed light and love on a topic that’s often stigmatized and ignored.
Project iRISE is a Toronto-based survivor-led organization that offers innovative skills and leadership development programs for survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence as well as those at risk. Providing anti-trafficking programs such as educational training, coaching, self-esteem building and peer mentorship, among others, survivors are welcomed into Project iRISE and given the proper tools to begin to heal. One specific program created through Project iRISE is a branding-tattoo removal service for survivors who are forced to live with the painful physical reminder of their trafficking.
The community-based initiative is working toward ending human trafficking by raising awareness, empowering survivors, addressing stigma and opening up the pathways of communication around a subject that’s often stigmatized and silenced in society.