Dana's Story


*Trigger Warning: The following story contains language surrounding sexual and substance abuse that may be triggering to some. Please keep this in mind before reading further. Additionally, we do our best to share uplifting stories on our platform but we also recognize a responsibility to share with you the tough situations that our grant partners face in the fight to end human trafficking.

McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center worked with Dana*, a transgender youth who had been on the streets and involved in sex work since she was 12 years old. At 12 years of age, she had decided to live her life as a female. Her immediate family was unaccepting of this thus she took to the streets. There is a large population of LGBTQ identifying youth who are homeless and on our streets. Research shows that this population is vulnerable to sex work and being exploited. LGBTQ youth are three to seven times more likely to enter the street economy and engage in survival sex to meet basic needs.

Dana met an older man when she left home who took her in, provided for her and then made her “earn her keep”. This went on for a number of years. Unfortunately, the youth was arrested a number of times for solicitation. Thankfully, she was referred to Human Trafficking Intervention Court. From there, the youth was referred to McMahon/Ryan’s program via the court and they began meeting with her while she was in jail between court dates.

Dana felt she had no one but her peers that understood her, felt she had nowhere to go, felt sex work validated her female presence and due to it all, picked up a substance abuse issue. Their team of advocates started their work with Dana and slowly but surely gained her trust and respect. After a number of failed attempts at substance abuse programs, missed therapy sessions and a couple more arrests and visits to Human Trafficking Intervention Court, she moved in with her Aunt and began going to school. She also started regularly attending therapy sessions and was clean for three months. Their advocates had even started to work on she and her mother’s relationship.

In the year and a half of back and forth, McMahon/Ryan had four months with her engaging in services and bettering herself. One weekend, they received a phone call from another service provider who was hearing from their clients that this youth had overdosed and passed away. Their team immediately called Dana’s mother and she confirmed that this was the truth.

The team at McMahon/Ryan coordinated the funeral services and burial through local DSS and utilized some agency connections to get donated time for a Reverend to do the funeral services. While this may not seem like a great ending, the silver lining in this story is that Dana was buried in full makeup, a gorgeous dress and her hair done. This was her mother’s acknowledgment of her struggle in being who she felt she needed to be and it was beautiful.

*Dana’s name has been changed.


We believe in restoring human dignity in a person’s life and death. We respect the way that McMahon/Ryan is playing a role in both. While many survivors of human trafficking are able to live long and fulfilled lives after surviving human trafficking, some cases show us the hard reality of modern slavery.

We partner with McMahon/Ryan to help fund their victim identification, aftercare, and outreach services to at-risk youth in greater Syracuse, NY area. Learn more about the work of McMahon/Ryan here.

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