By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
Sex trafficking is not something that is easily understood, or frequently discussed. Many times victims of sex trafficking, like victims of domestic violence, face being stigmatized by their communities and our society as a whole. As human beings, it is common for us to attempt to categorize people and place them into boxes. By doing so, we are able to quickly understand and label others, to distinguish whether or not we like them, and decide how we interact with them.
The problem with these labels, however, is that they allow for clouded judgment and misunderstanding instead of tolerance, compassion, and understanding. It’s common for us to put victims of sex trafficking in very rigid and unkind boxes--within our society they may be viewed as willing prostitutes or even undocumented citizens attempting to gain citizenship--all of these accusations are false. Most victims of sex trafficking are unwilling workers who are forced to work, abused, and threatened.
Victims of sex trafficking may find their way into this “business” for many different reasons. In some cases children or teens are kidnapped and forced into the industry. Runaways and those living on the streets also face being lured into the sex trafficking industry. Some victims may be tricked or coerced into the industry with promises of wealth or a better life. One thing to remember about the sex trafficking industry is that it relies on members of vulnerable populations to fulfill its needs. Traffickers may target women and children because of their disenfranchised place within society. Immigrants and undocumented citizens may also be targets due to their limited access to resources. Traffickers are tactful and understand that by using lies, manipulation and false hope, they are sometimes able to coerce people into their work.
While it is true that human trafficking can take place in legitimate business settings, victims typically will not seek immediate help. Many times victims of sex trafficking face depression, self-blame, and trust issues. Victims may be scared of what will happen to them if they do turn to others for help. Just because somebody does not turn to you for help does not mean that they do not want help, or need help.
Before you make snap judgments about those working in the sex industry, remember that a majority of victims do not willingly chose to be part of it. It is up to us to end the stigma that is attached to sex trafficking. By breaking down the boxes that we created and the labels we attach, we are taking a small step to change the way that victims of sex trafficking are seen within our society.
By Megan Richardson, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Human Trafficking has become a much publicized topic within the past few years, and while many people are starting to know more about it, it’s hard to know exactly how to engage in the movement other than by donating to an organization that helps survivors. Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission is quoted as saying “Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern slavery, but nothing will EVER happen until we are.” Knowledge is power, and just like with the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual assault, the more you know the more capable you are to help survivors walking through your doors.
If you work at a domestic violence/sexual assault shelter, you may have worked with a “trafficking” survivor without even knowing it. Trafficking survivors are experiencing sexual assault and domestic violence regularly, so how are they any different? There are many complicating factors to keep in mind when working with survivors of trafficking including the following: identifying survivors, challenges to rehabilitation, understanding complex trauma and utilizing trauma informed care.
Because of the covert nature of human trafficking, it is rare for a victim to self-identify. This is mostly because victims blame themselves, thinking they have consented to doing this type of work. Traffickers target vulnerabilities, and frequently use a victim's history of sexual abuse or neglect by convincing them that they can take back control of their trauma by making money off of sex – an act that has previously caused them so much pain. By targeting vulnerable populations, victims then take ownership of the decisions being made and believe what is happening to them is an empowering choice. Once a victim is initiated into “the Life,” it becomes very difficult to get out. Pimps can earn up to $632,000 per year by selling four young women or children, meaning they have a lot to lose if someone leaves. Therefore, clients also do not self-identify out of fear due to threats of deportation, violence, or attempts at keeping their family safe from retribution.
Survivors also often view their situation as temporary, and have been taught to mistrust law enforcement or other agencies that are in place to keep them safe. Identifying survivors can be complicated, but not impossible. Red flags that might arise in working with a client could consist of any involvement in sex work, underpayment in promised work, confiscation of legal documents, different work than promised, and working to pay off a debt. It can also be important to keep in mind that women can be traffickers too! Within the trafficking culture, there is room to move up in ranks, so it possible a woman who is a trafficker now has been in the business and has her own experience of abuse from an early age.
Because the issue of trafficking has become so sensationalized, many people are quick to take action, but just as quickly surprised at certain challenges to rehabilitation that arise. We like to think that once someone is rescued from their pimp, they will resume a normal lifestyle without complications, and fail to think victims could possibly return to such a violent and life threatening lifestyle, much like in cases involving domestic violence. Many survivors have gone through a “turning out” period with their trafficker involving intermittent violence and mixed message that create trauma bonds similar to the Stockholm Syndrome, where victims experience empathy and sympathy towards their perpetrators. Through this established loyalty, they may have been conditioned to believe that everyone else is against them. Relapse is high and likely due to the psychological control exerted over them, and reflects the traumatic bonds established early on in the relationship. Other challenges typically presented in a clinical setting include problems engaging in a trusting relationship, sexual confusion, resistance, and difficulty adhering to rules and structure.
For survivors of Human Trafficking, a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) just is not enough. Trafficking survivors have often experienced complex trauma including early childhood abuse and then continued interpersonal trauma for prolonged periods of time. The difference between someone in a shelter for domestic violence is that they may be seeking safety from one person in the community, while a survivor of trafficking is likely to have been violated by many. It’s probable that a trafficking survivor has been perpetrated by their pimp, their buyers or “johns,” and/or people appointed by the pimp to help inflict punishment. Even if a pimp is incarcerated, there are often additional networks of people that are likely and capable of causing significant harm to the client, therefore, causing experiences of poly-trauma, from multiple abusers. Having been exposed to such complex trauma, clients can present in a state of either hyperarousal or hypoarousal, and might seek services for a variety of psychological disorders including, but not limited to Substance Abuse Disorders, Attachment Disorder, Somatic Disorders, Dissociative Disorders, Mood Disorders, Personality Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, and more.
When working with survivors, just as with other clients, it is important to be non-judgmental and respectful, recognizing the strengths within them that have helped them to survive. Trauma informed questioning can assist in establishing a safe and trusting relationship. What would it mean to say something like “every couple has problems – what are some things in your relationship you don’t like.” versus “have you ever been abused?” Particularly with trafficking clients, it can help to address emergency and basic needs first, and present opportunities for choice, such as “would you like something to drink?” Be up front about who you are and your goals for speaking with them, while asking for permission for things like taking notes or closing the door. Setting appropriate boundaries for the client will become necessary, while also making sure to take care of yourself, as this can be very difficult work.
There are immigration remedies available for survivors of trafficking and many organizations ready to take action and offer support to service providers. For additional resources and information, I recommend you contact The Polaris Project, your state-level Coalition Against Human Trafficking, World Relief, and/or Shared Hope International.
Megan Richardson currently works as a Crisis Intervention Therapist and Advocate. In this role, she mostly works with survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking, offering individual and family counseling, group treatment, and advocacy services including 50b restraining order and immigration remedy assistance, safety planning, and ongoing support. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) with her Master’s and Educational Specialist Degree in couples and family counseling. After graduating from UNCG, she worked with a non-profit organization in the Philippines assisting survivors of human trafficking, and offering training opportunities to those working closely with survivors.
By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
The term “sex trafficking” may resonate differently with us all--for some of us this term is completely unfamiliar and unknown, and for others this term may remind you of a scene in a dramatic movie or book. Whether you are completely unaware of sex trafficking, or you believe that it only happens in some far off land, I urge you to consider that sex trafficking is a very real concern which affects thousands of Americans every year.
These statistics show just how much sex trafficking affects our nation.
Sex trafficking does not only happen in far off nations or non-fiction novels, it may be happening right in your backyard. In fact, victims of sex trafficking have been found in all 50 US states in areas ranging from cities, suburbs and rural areas (Polaris Project). No community in the US is left unaffected. Sex trafficking is not something that is always hidden, in some instances, the industry relies on various legal and legitimate business settings all around the US to traffic their victims. Victims of sex trafficking may be forced to work in brothels, online escort services, fake massage business, strip clubs and as prostitutes (Polaris Project).
Whether you have been directly affected by this or indirectly affected, sex trafficking affects us all in some way or another. Therefore, it’s important for all of us to take a stand and help end its existence. This may seem like a daunting and unreasonable task, but there are small and simple steps that you can take to help victims and possible future victims of sex trafficking.
If you have any information, tips or questions related to sex trafficking, call The National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s toll-free hotline, at 1-888-373-7888
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Although attention to the issue of human trafficking has increased, in many communities, specific services to support survivors of trafficking have yet to be developed. In some areas, agencies that typically serve survivors of intimate partner violence and/or sexual assault are leading the way to ensure that survivors of trafficking also can receive the support and resources they need.
There are many potential overlaps between trafficking and intimate partner violence, including the following:
According to Futures Without Violence, some of the services that survivors of trafficking need include physical and mental healthcare, legal services, assistance with immigration issues, and tangible resources, such as housing.
Across the country, many agencies are collaborating with others in their community to ensure that survivors of trafficking have access to these resources. For example, in New York, Sanctuary for Families has a comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Initiative. In New York City, Safe Horizon has an Anti-Trafficking Program, which both provides services to victims and works to educate the community about this issue. In Dallas, Mosaic Family Services offers support, such as legal representation and counseling, to survivors of both trafficking and domestic violence. Other organizations, such as the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence in Corvallis, Oregon, help raise awareness about trafficking by providing information on their web-site.
Other resources exist to help agencies who wish to provide competent services to survivors of trafficking. These include a manual for domestic violence service provider agencies from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a set of recommendations from the Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, and an assessment guide from the Polaris Project.
There’s a lot of work to be done to continue to educate the public about trafficking and to ensure that there are adequate services for survivors in every community. We’re thankful to those who are leading the way in communities across the country to both prevent and respond to this important issue.
Human trafficking, including sex trafficking, is recently gaining greater public recognition and media attention. If you’re looking for resources to learn more about trafficking, we’ve pulled together some of the sites we’d recommend for credible, useful information.
Here’s our list:
This list is just an introduction to the many resources available for learning about trafficking and ways to help. For even more ideas of ways you can get involved in anti-human trafficking efforts, the U.S. Department of State offers a great list of 20 ways you can get involved.
Also, be sure to check if your own state or community has coalitions or organizations working to address trafficking in your area. Three listings of these organizations can be found through Humantrafficking.org, the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, and Wikipedia.
By Allison Crowe, Co-Founder of See the Triumph
This month, See the Triumph is focusing on human trafficking. Human trafficking is defined as the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with an ultimate aim of exploitation. Sex is just one aspect of trafficking, and forced labor, slavery, and servitude are other forms of this disturbing and growing activity. One startling fact is that human trafficking brings in an estimated $32 billion a year and is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world; illegal drugs is the largest (http://nightlightinternational.com/resources/facts-about-trafficking/). Unfortunately, human trafficking occurs most frequently with women and children. Young women are often lured by perpetrators with the promise of a modeling, acting, or nanny position.
Not In My Backyard: One of the common attitudes out there about human trafficking is that it is a problem only outside of the United States. Many Americans view the issue as happening in places like Thailand, Russia, Asia, or Singapore - certainly not in our own backyards. The truth is human trafficking is happening everywhere. In our own communities - big cities, small towns, east, west, north, and south. Human trafficking is very common in the United States. In an article from Psychology by Dr. Wendy Patrick, the following statistics go to show just how big of a problem it is in our own backyards:
Today I urge all of you to consider what you can do in your own communities to raise awareness and fight against human trafficking. Here are a few resources where you can find information and support.
Let’s take some time in June to focus on this issue. Unfortunately, it is happening in our own communities, so it’s up to us to educate ourselves and each other about human trafficking and ways to end it, one backyard at a time.
Take our Causes pledge to send the message: "Human Trafficking? Not in MY Backyard!" at the following link:
A couple months ago, we heard from a group of local high school students in Greensboro, NC, who were interested in developing an on-line resource on human trafficking, and we were honored to partner with them. This highly motivated group of young people developed the video above for See the Triumph as part of our month-long focus on ending the stigma surrounding human trafficking. Please take a look, share it with others, and be inspired by the energy and passion that this group of young people showed through their work!
Special thanks go out to the production team that created this video: Dylan Erikson, Aidan Maycock, Sunwoo Yim, Stefano Romano, Ori Soker, Zachary Patel, Nathan Miller, Thomas Lawe, Junmo Ryang, Jeyla Savage and Pratham Chhabria!
Here's a brief bio of the students involved in developing the video:
"We are rising juniors at the Early College at Guilford in Greensboro, NC and originally began work on this video as a part of a project for our AP Environmental Science class taught by Mrs. Katheryn Cooper. We chose to address human trafficking because we felt that it was a social justice issue we personally knew little about, and yet it affects millions of teens and young adults each year. As a group, we hoped that by raising awareness about this often overlooked form of violence, we could make a difference. Via the use of modern media, we aimed to create an electronic product that would spread awareness to an audience beyond our school and local community. Through this experience, we became aware of the complexity and magnitude of human trafficking both locally and globally. We are now are better equipped to be a part of the solution and are committed to help end the stigma surrounding victims of human trafficking--many of whom are teenagers like ourselves."
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
This June, we’re turning our attention to human trafficking, and especially sex trafficking. Increasingly, professionals and the general population are recognizing trafficking as a major category of interpersonal violence. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
More specifically, human sex trafficking involves trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, including forced prostitution and other commercial sex acts (See The Advocates for Human Rights and The Polaris Project for more information).
Our focus at See the Triumph is typically on intimate partner violence in general, based on our research with survivors. However, this month we wanted to address trafficking for three main reasons.
First, there are many links between intimate partner violence and trafficking. For example, trafficking victims may be lured into trafficking situations through the guise of an intimate relationship with their abusers. Also, as power and control dynamics underlie intimate partner violence, so too are trafficking perpetrators masters at maintaining control over their victims’ lives and decisions.
Second, domestic violence agencies and other community resources are increasingly called upon to serve the needs of trafficking victims and survivors. They may be asked to provide such services as shelter and victim advocacy for survivors in their local communities.
Third, there is a significant stigma that survivors of trafficking face, and we believe the lessons we’ve learned about the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence can shed light on the stigma surrounding trafficking.
What does stigma look like, as it applies to trafficking?
In our research, we conceptualize stigma as having the following major components:
At See the Triumph, we’re passionate about ending the stigma that only compounds the challenges associated with abuse victimization. Those who survive any form of abuse deserve our support and admiration. We hope you’ll join us this month in learning about how we can work together to end the stigma surrounding trafficking as part of our efforts to end the stigma surrounding abuse.
As Ndioro Ndiaye, Deputy Director General for the International Organization for Migration, said, “By breaking down the stigma and by empowering trafficked women to step forward and speak of their experiences, global efforts to counter human trafficking, particularly of women and girls for sexual exploitation, will be much more successful. But this can only be done by tackling ignorance and prejudice among the public at large as to why women fall prey to traffickers.”