In my previous two posts about sex trafficking, I discussed Who is Involved in trafficking and how to Spot Signs that indicate it is happening. To wrap up the three-part series, I will discuss How To Help the Victims, while being genuinely caring and in tune with their needs. When you’re reading this, keep in mind that every victim is different and will respond better to some coping methods than others. It is important to keep compassion and sensitivity at the core of your intentions, no matter the victim.
Every victim’s experience is different. They might have been subjected to conditions similar to prison OR they might have had a few freedoms (such as the liberty to have a small allowance or to walk around unsupervised). They may have been well-fed or malnourished, left alone or beaten, allowed to go outside or deprived of fresh air and sunshine. Even if the victim’s living conditions were relatively comfortable, they may have suffered severe emotional abuse (not to mention, the trauma that comes with treating one’s body like a tool that can be used and misused by anyone).
It’s often hard to really know what went on during the victim’s internment. Because of that, it can be difficult to know where to begin when trying to help a victim heal. One of the most important things you can do is to follow their lead. Pay attention to visual clues—body language, facial expressions, etc.—as well as what the victim says to you. She might indicate that she wants company, or she might want to be left alone. She may want to talk about her experience, or she may want to talk about something completely unrelated.
Be sensitive to the victim’s needs. They are the ones who have to heal, and they will do it at their own pace. Forcing the victim to do an activity or to talk when they’d rather be silent will only lead to feelings of frustration, and it may re-traumatize the already traumatized.
Another key to helping a victim heal is to be patient. Even if you’re chomping at the bit to talk about the trauma a victim experienced, let him open up to you at his own pace. It can take a long time for trafficked individuals to develop trust in others again once they’ve escaped servitude, and that is something that can absolutely NOT be forced.
One thing to keep in mind is that it often takes a community of caring, compassionate individuals to help empower victims of trafficking and help them integrate back into society. Resources include:
- Therapists who specialize in talking with people who have undergone a major trauma
- Houses for trafficking victims
- Support groups (either in person or online) that can give the victim a sense of community
- Help lines (such as the one for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center) that the victim can call to get immediate support
- Government-run programs that provide rehabilitation or financial services to help individuals reintegrate into society, attend a vocational school or university, find employment, obtain medical and psychological assessments, find housing and learn how to live again without bondage
One thing you can do is help make this multitude of resources available for the victim. Do your research and help find local or online platforms that could be useful for helping the healing process.
As a final note, I want to mention that the sex trafficked victim may not be the only one in need of care and compassion. The victim’s family might also be suffering and trying to come to terms with what happened. They may harbor feelings of confusion, anger, and sadness; they may be frustrated if the victim doesn’t want to open up and tell them about her experience. Whatever the case, it is important to involve the family in the healing process, if they are open to participating.
While working with sex trafficking victims, it is important to take yourself out of the equation. Focus on unique individuals, recognize their needs, be patient, and gently point them toward useful resources. Healing takes time, and your supportive presence does make a difference.