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Alumna turns childhood trauma into activism

Abused as a youngster, Crystal Anthony finds purpose by helping others as a social worker

Alumna Crystal Anthony
A trip to Mexico City changed the life of social worker Crystal Anthony. (Photo/Joyful Steps)

Crystal Anthony MSW ’12 grew up under the hands of an abusive father. She and her mother were the frequent targets of his displaced anger.

“I can remember a vivid image of [my biological father] putting a gun to my mom’s head and asking me, ‘Who do you love more?’” she recalled. “I was only 4 or 5, but I knew what I needed to say for him to stop.”

The beatings were severe and the fear palpable, but she still considers herself one of the lucky ones. She survived and has learned to channel those memories of violence into a career helping other victims.

“My biological father was a bad person, and he went to prison for doing bad things,” she said. “I wish that these things never happened to me, but it’s also given me empathy and courage to stand for others … [These experiences] helped me discover that I wanted to help people who often don’t have a voice.”

Finding her calling

Anthony initially wanted to go into law and become a voice for the disenfranchised. Then she thought about starting her own nonprofit. This all changed on a mission trip to Mexico City when she witnessed a line of customers waiting to pick up girls being sold for sex. She resolved to become an activist in a different way — as a social worker.

We do different types of social work … and make real change in people’s lives.

Crystal Anthony

“When I read the description of what a social worker is, I realized that was what I wanted to be,” she said. “Social workers aren’t just people who go into people’s homes. We do different types of social work … and make real change in people’s lives.”

She started looking into master’s programs in California and eventually joined the second cohort of the Virtual Academic Center at the USC School of Social Work. During her first-year internship for the program, Anthony was placed at North County Lifeline, a service agency in the City of Vista focused on youth and family development.

Three months into the internship, she was hired on to develop an anti-human trafficking program for the agency, and in 2011, Anthony and her colleagues launched Project LIFE (Living in Freedom from Exploitation), an advocacy program that provides trauma-specific and mental health services for past and current victims of human trafficking.

As program coordinator for Project LIFE, Anthony collaborated with community agencies to provide clients with wraparound services, such as intensive care management and long-term counseling. She was also pivotal in establishing partnerships with law enforcement and federal agencies, creating a 24/7 on-call service for emergency cases.

“Crystal brought unwavering passion and energy to the table,” said Halima Martelli, Anthony’s supervisor at North County Lifeline. “She took the initiative to be trained in trauma-informed practices … to be able to provide the highest level of evidence-based treatment to her clients. Crystal also worked closely with the FBI and sheriff’s department and would accompany them on stings so that she could meet survivors face to face at their most vulnerable to offer hope and provide information about services in the community.”

Anthony’s efforts to combat human trafficking were recently recognized when the agency received the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award in December. Created in 1990, the annual accolade honors community leaders and organizations that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to combat crime and violence in America.

“Sometimes you do the work without recognition, but when a big federal agency recognizes your work, it’s pretty neat,” she said. “I [recently] got a rad email from a detective: ‘You never got a badge, but you got a badge from us. You were a sister on site.’ Being treated with so much respect is a huge deal.”

Dreaming bigger

Anthony currently serves as a clinical social worker for Orange County, providing training on human trafficking as well as individual and group prevention and intervention treatment for youth in juvenile detention facilities. She works with at-risk adolescents who have been involved in human trafficking, whether as victims or perpetrators.

I had a moment of clarity [when] I realized that I, too, had been an at-risk youth and didn’t even know it.

Crystal Anthony

“The kids that I work with, they don’t have a parent who can be a support system for them. I had my mom and an awesome grandma and an incredible stepdad,” she said. “I had a moment of clarity [when] I realized that I, too, had been an at-risk youth and didn’t even know it.”

Aside from her day job, Anthony also conducts expert trainings and speaks at conferences across the country. She hopes that by spreading the word, more people will become educated about human trafficking and be inspired to become part of the solution.

“I had a kid recently who told me, ‘I wish I could go home with you,’” she said. “There’s not enough housing for the human trafficking world. I want to create a system that makes an impact on the housing situation for these victims.”

One day, Anthony plans to become an even stronger support system for victims by tackling the issue on a macro level.

“Maybe later on, I’ll run for office of some sort,” she said. “I’m looking to change policy.”

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Alumna turns childhood trauma into activism

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