Illustration by Michael Hoeweler for TIME
April 23, 2014 5:49 PM EDT

Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew spent the first 18 years of her life in the U.S. foster care system and for seven of them she was victimized by sex traffickers in streets, strip clubs and massage parlors.

Now a college student, T has become a beacon of hope, raising her voice against the world’s $96 billion human-trafficking industry, which exploits 27 million victims, including millions of youths and children. Testifying last October before Congress, T turned her words into action, offering practical tools to improve the child-welfare system.

A modern-day abolitionist, T has set herself free and empowered us to liberate others.

Martin is a four-time Grammy Award winner, UNICEF goodwill ambassador and founder of the Ricky Martin Foundation

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