Stephanie Catani and UNCHAINED Advocate for Human Trafficking Victims Through Artistic Expression

Stephanie Catani

Photo by Andrea Hoppel

Interview by Sarah Shumick

Stephanie Catani gets up everyday with hope. Hope to “find, receive and to give.” As executive director of UNCHAINED, a non-profit that uses artistic expression to advocate for victims of human trafficking, Catani’s mission and the mission of her organization is “to see every person freed, every survivor healed, and every life restored.” With both a film and a fashion show, there is ample opportunity to become educated and more aware of the issues and aftermath of human trafficking. A heavy topic, Catani and UNCHAINED use the arts to convey a message and tell the stories that words often cannot.

Name: Stephanie Catani
Age: 35
Profession: Executive Director, UNCHAINED
Neighborhood: Formerly Italian Village and Dublin (I miss Columbus every day. I live in TN with my husband for his job after he became a helicopter pilot.)
Connect: Instagram

Give us a snapshot of your career path: When I graduated from Ohio State, I became the Creative Director for a Women’s Empowerment Project in Liberia, West Africa putting on a fashion show to launch their 5th African location. Then I moved back to Columbus and worked for The Limited Corporate Office in the Accessories Department. Finally in 2014, I co-founded UNCHAINED.

How did you get started down the path of helping victims of human trafficking? I had learned about trafficking while traveling internationally, but was so surprised it was happening in my country, and specifically my city of Columbus. About the same time I learned of trafficking in the US in 2010, I was also healing from a personal situation where I suffered sexual abuse as a child. I carried it silently for a very long time, and now I’m driven to give people a safe way to talk about what they have been through. Although I was so young when the trauma happened (which researchers are finding it has a severely damaging effect on the brain in early childhood) the pain that I suffered was so consequential on my life, that now I choose to bring hope to the darkest and most oppressive form of sexual abuse in our nation: sex trafficking.

Tell us about UNCHAINED (both the film and the fashion show). What should we know and how can we get involved? UNCHAINED is a nonprofit organization passionate about utilizing artistic expression to advocate for the victims of trafficking. We raise awareness and empower healing and holistic restoration through fashion and fundraising. Unchained is unique that it fundraises for local organizations.

The UNCHAINED Film will be shown on September 19th, 2019 at 7pm at the Columbus Museum of Art. This is the first showing in Columbus! It is a high fashion film telling the story of a survivor of trafficking from Innocence, Violation, and Restoration because there is always hope!! Then an Overcomer of trafficking will share her story, a panel of artists who created the film will share, and all funds raised at the event goes to opening Columbus’ first emergency home for adult women caught in cycles of human trafficking. The film showing is followed by a cocktail hour. The event is sponsored by The Schumacher group, an Ameriprise Financial Service. Tickets are $25 if purchased in advance of the event, or $30 on the night of the event.

And the live performance art UNCHAINED Fashion show presented by COhatch The Pub will be shown at Polaris Fashion Place on September 28th, 2019 at 7pm. VIP is $75 (pre-show cocktails starting at 5:30pm, and post show celebration) and General Admission to the show is $35.

Tickets for both events can be found at UnchainedFashionShow.com/events.

What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek? There is always hope. More hope to find, receive and give. And getting through the workweek looks like a lot of adventure. Running a nonprofit is never boring. From using fashion and creativity to tell the story and bring healing, to working with communities and incredible partners to see as much healing as possible and walking through healing journey’s with Overcomers of trafficking is all so life-giving.

What advice has helped guide you along the way? Failing is helpful, not final. It helps you learn, grow, and evolve. And the other thing is to look where things are unfolding, not to how things are ending.

What do you do or where do you go to unwind? Anywhere close to water. Walking along the water is super healing, when you carry so many painful stories from Others.

If you could have a superpower, which would you choose? Be with all my favorite people across the world at the same time.

What are three things you think Columbus needs (or wish Columbus had)? Nothing. Seriously, I love this City.

Tell us about an initiative(s) or organization(s) you are most passionate about and/or involved with: I am passionate about any organizations giving direct services to Survivors. Currently we are fundraising for Out of Darkness at both of our events this month. They’ve been reaching out to Individuals caught in trafficking for four years, built quality relationships by connecting weekly, and have a drop in center in the area that the Individuals are currently working. They help them dream and hope again about their own lives. All the while, Out of Darkness has been planning to open an emergency safe house for adult women in trafficking, and this month they are finally opening their doors.

If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? Columbus is the most open to partnerships and collaborations. This is extremely rare compared to the other cities I’ve lived in.

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