Offering Support and Compassion and Never Judgment

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
It all begins with a cupcake.

She came to Portland, Oregon, from Lebanon with a husband and children and the promise of the American Dream dancing in her head. Within a few years, she was being sex trafficked.

Her husband abused her, and when she finally found the courage to file for divorce, he used his American family to employ a team of top lawyers to wrest custody of their two sons. She tried to cope, got a job, and met a man on a dating app. But he, too, was violent. Far from her home country, isolated and vulnerable, and with no support system and no money, she ended up being trafficked.

There are more than 4.8 million victims of sex trafficking globally (according to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization). And, while traffickers prey on people of all ages and backgrounds, 99% of the victims are women and girls.

The woman from Lebanon ultimately escaped this harrowing situation when she stumbled on a resource card in a Las Vegas brothel for The Cupcake Girls.  

Respect. Resources. Relationships.

Founded in 2011 in Las Vegas, The Cupcake Girls is a nonprofit organization that provides confidential, nonjudgmental support, and a range of holistic resources and referral services to those involved in the sex industry, as well as prevention and aftercare services to those affected by sex trafficking. 

According to the Urban Justice Center, 45-75% of sex workers will experience violence during their lifetimes. The Lancet Public Health says that sex workers are at greater risk of poor mental health, social exclusion, violence, and homicide.

The Cupcake Girls aims to ensure consensual sex workers are safe and empowered by offering them a wide range of direct care programs in a confidential, safe place. Among these services are: a Referral Program, which gives referrals to vetted safe partners and resources for pro bono or low-cost assistance (such as to doctors and therapists); an Advocacy Program, which provides an advocate who meets weekly with participants to help them set and achieve long-range goals; and their Outreach Program, where they use their famous pink cupcakes to build trust within the community.

Building Trust

In the organization’s early days, members visited clubs in Las Vegas toting boxes of pink cupcakes because they were an icebreaker. Eventually, the cupcakes became a symbol of trust between the sex workers and those working to help them. The girls would call out, “The Cupcake Girls are here!” – which is how the organization got its name.

The Cupcake Girls has served over 10,000 women since its inception and plans to support another 600 in the coming months.

“Over these years, we have shifted our approach from a savior mentality to listening and engaging with voices of Indigenous and Black women,” says Amy-Marie Merrell, co-executive director of The Cupcake Girls. “By doing that, we are not only challenging hierarchies, but we are investing in people with lived experience.”

As for the woman from Lebanon, The Cupcake Girls connected her to a pro bono lawyer, who helped her finalize her divorce and relocate to Portland to be closer to her children. 


The Cupcake Girls

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(207) 200-8094
Co-Executive Director: Amy-Marie Merrell


The Cupcake Girls provides confidential support to those involved in the sex industry, as well as trauma-informed outreach, advocacy, holistic resources, and referral services to provide prevention and aftercare to those affected by sex trafficking.

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