To Top

Meet Cynthia Luvlee-Austin of Shyne San Diego in North County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Luvlee-Austin.

Cynthia, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Shyne San Diego began as a new social impact concept providing grassroots organizing and professional development for survivors who demonstrated leadership capabilities within the anti-human trafficking movement. Commercial sexual exploitation (primarily of women) thrives in secrecy as the second-largest criminal enterprise in our world. In San Diego, this underground illicit economy is estimated to generate close to 1Billion dollars a year, affecting over 8,000 victims.

The initial concept of Shyne was met with resistance, discouragement and doubt. Early on, I often heard things like, “survivors are too traumatized to be business owners, you should teach them how to get jobs instead.” I realized early on that the stigma survivors have placed on them by society is unfair and variably untrue. Therefore, I decided to begin Shyne San Diego with Project SEEN, a photographic memoir class, as an initial step towards encouraging survivors to reclaim their narratives and help shift the stigmas. The 20 women who came to Project SEEN each told a unique story about vulnerabilities that led to them being exploited and the difficulties experienced when choosing to leave.

As a nonprofit startup specialist for over twenty years in San Diego, I’ve had the distinct privilege of launching numerous innovative social impact organizations from inception to fully operational (Linkedin Profile). I knew from my extensive social services background that the “systems response” already provided job placement services for those seeking employment. Unfortunately, survivors with extensive criminal histories, tattoos, lack of stability and system distrust disproportionately end up either going back to the commercial sex industry or become long-term system dependents. After six months of researching local programs, meetings with prominent local agencies and an assessment of economic solutions, it was clear I had to proceed with launching Shyne San Diego’s original concept. We are now the premier agency seeking to end exploitation by building a network of survivor owned and operated businesses and nonprofit organizations.

We began by partnering with survivors of human trafficking with hosting a Community Vision Summit, developed by The Goldin Institute Gather Curriculum. We asked survivor owned business and Nonprofits that were already in existence, to come together to develop a strategic plan for addressing the complex adaptive issues of commercial sexual exploitation in our community. Since then, handpicking the team of women with survivor success already accomplished, Shyne has achieved every goal we’ve set, while simultaneously continuing to expand the Survivor Business Network (SBN). Shyne San Diego provides survivors of exploitation access to professional development, business management, founder partnerships and a network of support. Shyne San Diego & the SBN pprovide long-term solutions creating greater impact by reducing duplication of services, increasing social connections and removing barriers to get needs met.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Being a social reform organization, it’s not a smooth road! I started with a genuine desire for solving the issues contributing to sexual exploitation, which I believe is economically centered. The most effective strategy we have in operation today is supporting survivors with developing solutions. Because this method equips survivors with education, organization and an active role in social change, it’s been controversial from the start.

I discovered quickly that there are people in the anti-human trafficking movement who don’t want us to succeed. If survivors are capable, successful and organized, they threaten the system and society’s current savior mentality. Shyne focuses on skills development and strengths perspective. A few times along the way I’ve been told that I can’t do this, I need to stop! I’ve been publicly defamed, threatened and removed from community email lists. I’ve also had my program model duplicated, and the word “entrepreneurship” is now becoming a trend in assisting survivors with exit strategies for long-term success. Shyne is grateful to see our initial concept adopted in programs because we are beginning to see the benefits of ownership with survivor businesses we serve.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Shyne San Diego – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
We spoke a little about what sets us apart is the fact that we are survivor advised and operated. Shyne San Diego asks those impacted the most by human trafficking what they need and then provides them with those services. We offer business and nonprofit training services that rely on authentic collaboration. This allows our network of care to develop a faster response time, fill in the gaps and make a lasting impact. Our data shows our core goals of education, access to resources and community support is successful. We are proud of Project SEEN being survivor-led and continuing to provide creative and expressive arts to sexually exploited youth ages 12-21.

We held our first collaborative fundraising event in November 2019 called Kindness Fest, a music and arts festival supporting survivor owned nonprofit organizations. January 2020we partnered with Amari Dixon Photography, You Belong Here, The Survivor Business Network, PCI Global and community volunteers to host the county’s first Survivor Portraits Exhibit: Behold Her. Eight brave survivors created and showcased their images to the public during National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Their hope was to help shift the stigmas while illuminating the public about their truths.

Survivors are proving their abilities as successful businesswomen. Creating purpose from pain is a powerful way to transform and inspire others. Shyne San Diego is proud to be the premier agency where survivors come to strengthen their skills as leaders, social service providers, businesswomen and voices for change.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
It’s fascinating to be writing this during a time where the world is impacted by COVID-19 virus quarantine protocols. Self-isolating and forced quarantine create a lot of fear and anxiety, especially for those with past traumas. Shyne San Diego is working on the frontlines to assess our community’s needs as they arise. We look towards the future with hope and optimism. We continue to be an example of what’s possible when we come together to support each other’s success.

Thankfully, Shyne San Diego has an established strong community of survivors who are helping create protocols, assessments and services for those struggling with the current mandatory changes. Our future goals remain focused on strengthening economic security through an online network. The Survivor Business Network was set to launch this summer, but with the last week of quarantine restrictions required to remedy this viral outbreak, we are making the business platform our first priority. The site includes several options for hiring a diverse array of survivor professionals and advisors. Hiring and supporting survivor owned operations grows our capacity to provide ongoing education, internships and income opportunities to more survivors.

Assuming the best outcomes of COVID-19 quarantine, we will host our second annual leadership retreat weekend and Kindness Fest Art & Music Fundraiser. For anyone interested in supporting survivors of human trafficking, our extensive network of nonprofit organizations and businesses offers ample opportunities to get involved. We welcome volunteers, donors and business partners interested in helping us achieve our mission.

A partner agency Victory Garden Sanctuary 501c3 is actively hosting the SBN and the ONLY Survivor Advised COVID-19 Relief Fund. If you are in need or would like to donate directly please go to:


  • Marketing and Public Relations Packages ($100-10,000)
  • Start Over Mindfulness Coaching Sessions ($100-4 sessions)
  • Survivor Advisors ($50/hour)
  • Graphic Design ($40-400)
  • Event Planning for nonprofits and entertainment industry ($5000-15,000)
  • Business Consulting Services ($150/hour)

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Amari Dixon Photography and Matthew Suarez

Suggest a story: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

COVID-19 Conversations:
Covid-19 is affecting so many in our community. It’s a health and economic crisis, but we can come together as a community to share ideas, solutions to problems, and resources to ensure that we all bounce back strong once the virus is defeated. Check out our conversation with photographer and Voyage Content Partner Stephanie Mantiply below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in