Bissell, a technical writer based in Hannibal, Mo., is a former prostitute who sold her body to pay for college.
But the seeds of tragedy were sowed in her teenage years by a pedophile stepfather who just happened to be a human sexuality professor.
"He groomed me for sex work," she told AOL News.
Despite a tragic youth, Bissell eventually escaped her life as a sex worker and, even better, used what she learned to help others.
Bissell is the founder of the Silver Braid, a charity that helps survivors of sexual violence with counseling and housing and to take away the shame and stigma they may feel so they can, like Bissell, overcome their past.
"The silver braid is a teaching symbol. We consider it our version of the pink ribbon," she said. "It symbolizes that domestic violence, sexual assault and exploitation are all interconnected. Believe it or not, a survivor who runs away from a pimp might get turned away from a domestic-violence shelter."
Bissell's mission is to deglamorize the global, billion-dollar sex industry, which she believes is not a victimless crime.
"The sex industry has hijacked so many terms, like freedom of choice," she said. "It used to be the definition of an empowered woman was a doctor or lawyer. Now it's a stripper or prostitute. I call it the 'Pretty Woman' myth."
After studying women in the sex industry for nearly two decades, she has worked extensively with women in the criminal justice system with the mission to help them get out of prostitution, or "the life."
"The hardest part is the after-effects," Bissell said. "Victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking both suffer similar consequences. They are closed emotionally; they experience disassociation; they suffer flashbacks; and are prone to addiction.
"The Silver Braid is set up to provide sympathy and compassion and help ease the shame the victims may feel. There are more women in prisons than ever, and a lot of them suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from sexual abuse."
Bissell's efforts include going to prisons to talk with young women and working to end nationwide sex-traffic rings.
"Minnesota is a big area for that," she said. "The girls are found at the malls and can be sent down to places like San Diego."
Bissell estimates the organization has been helping hundreds of women a year since 2003, when her book, "Memoirs of a Sex Industry Survivor," was released.
The book is being reissued in an e-book format in January, and Bissell says there has been some Hollywood interest.
More important than that, she says, is getting the attention of the girls who are most affected.
"I spoke with some girls at the California Youth Authority, and there was one 17-year-old who had been there four years," Bissell said. "She had been 'turned out' at the age of 13 -- which is disgusting -- and she told me, 'I wish you had come in earlier.'
"We're the antidote to this virus, but the sex industry is happy when people aren't talking about it. I want these girls who've been through this to know that if they have some shame that we still have a way to talk through it."
And that means Bissell has to keep talking about it as well.
"Every day, a child is exploited; every day, we look the other way. If I did not tell the truth about what happened in my lifetime as a result of my own experiences as an exploited child, it would be as if I too was looking the other way. If no one tells the truth, the exploitation will become the norm."