Growing up in a rural farm town, Joel Filmore suffered through abuse at home and intolerance from his community. He ran away from home as a teenager and ultimately came to Chicago looking for acceptance and a new life.

“When I came to Chicago, I was a young, gay boy who dressed in drag, and pimps were really big in the gay community,” he said. Despite how our culture glamorizes pimps, Joel found the reality to be much different. Joel endured years of abuse both from his pimp and customers. After being arrested more than 50 times, Joel made his way out of the sex trade.

He used his time in prison to apply for college and, when he was released, held down a job at a convenience store until he graduated. Joel dreamed of doing more, so he went on to earn a master’s degree and became a licensed therapist. Joel is now working toward his Ph.D. in counseling.

“I have a great life. I’ve learned that, most of the time, education trumps a criminal background,” he said. Joel understood that his prostitution convictions could prevent him from working with at-risk youth or becoming a foster or adoptive parent. He learned about the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act and reached out to CAASE for help vacating his convictions.

Joel’s first meeting was with Kaethe Morris Hoffer, CAASE’s legal director. “She really changed my perception of lawyers,” Joel said. “She listened to my story and was able to empathize. She’s really gone above and beyond.” Looking forward, Joel hopes to be among the first survivors to petition to have his prostitution convictions vacated under the law. He also wants to work with other male survivors of the sex trade. “People need to hear my story, and they might be more likely to listen to Dr. Joel Filmore,” he said.

Learn more about the Sexual Assault Justice Project here.

Read more from the 2011 CAASE Annual Report here.