Originally posted on Innocence Atlanta on September 8, 2011.
“Survival is your strength, not your shame.”
Recently I saw a TV episode during which a man seeking fame and fortune irreversibly transforms his young daughter into a monster as a scientific experiment. Two passersby in the lives of the man and his daughter are seized with guilt, anger, and depression at the realization that there is nothing they can do to change the girl back into what she once was.
It’s doesn’t take a creative leap to draw a comparison between the story of the fictional girl and the story of a real youth whose future, dignity and hope is snatched away and exchanged for a life of shame and abuse. The average age that a young girl is initially commercially and/or sexually exploited by a pimp or john is between 12 and 14 years old. For boys and transgender youth, that age drops to between 11 and 13.
However: there’s also a significant difference between the two narratives.
In real life, minors who are victimized at the hands of traffickers and johns don’t have to remain trapped in the form of what society views as monstrous. There is restoration. There is redemption.
First, it requires recognition: law enforcement agents, counselors and others must recognize that a victim is not a monster – he or she is a victim of a monster. A victim is legally not a prostitute if under the age of 17 in Georgia or willing to testify that they have been coerced into commercial sex acts through fraud and/or violence. Nevertheless, minors swept up into the sex industry face the harmful misnomers of “teen hookers” or “child prostitutes”. One of the largest hurdles that human trafficking awareness agencies must clear is changing a public mindset of blame. The International Labor Office recently released a summary of findings they gathered while conducting a study of CSEC victims in Belize. According to their findings, half of the victims “…endured insults and humiliation from the public in relation to CSEC. A significant number (11 out of 30) also said they were scorned by family members.”
Secondly, rehabiltation requires intervening on the victim’s behalf. This isn’t always an easy task, as victims of CSEC are often manipulated into believing that they’re monsters, too. Victims don’t always come forward for fear of backlash from the law or their own community. It’s important for law enforcement agencies, teachers, doctors and nurses, family members, dentists, or anyone else who may encounter a victim be aware of the signs that a person is being trafficked. (Check out the risk factors of CSEC here)
Only then can restoration occur. Across the nation, girls and boys are receiving new beginnings through rehabilitative programs like those offered by the organizations below.
Wellspring Living For Girls is a Georgia-based restorative system of care for girls who have been sexually exploited. Recognized as a leader in best practices for treating victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, Wellspring works alongside a licensed children’s home, a non-traditional school, and groups and individuals in the community. Wellspring For Girls provides girls between the ages of 12-17 with “counseling, group therapy, education, life skills and vocational training, family reunification as well as spiritual care” and has assisted in the acquisition of three high school diplomas and several GEDs.
Love146 provides a safehouse for children who have been rescued from commercial sexual exploitation and are in need of protection, direction, and rehabilitation. This safehouse is called the Roundhome. As the name implies, the shape of the safehouse is circular, indicating a symbolic return to one’s former self:
…the Round Home … enable[s] the child to come full circle, liberated from their traumas and sufferings, to realize their innate worth and worth as a potentially valued and productive member of society. (Love146)
Victims are counseled to overcome the psychological trauma of commercial exploitation, educated on the dangers of trafficking and their role in the community, and reintegrated into normal life.
Innovative therapeutic programs like equine-assisted psychotheraphy are gaining more prevalence, too. According to Main Stay Therapeutic Riding’s mission statement, therapy “…provides an opportunity for new self awareness when students experience how their actions, whether physical or verbal, strong or passive – influence the horse…The non-judgmental horse, combined with Main Stay’s supportive team and inspiring setting can be a safe haven – a place to feel secure, trusted, positive and in control.”
Though traffickers gain psychological control over victims by robbing them of their true identity as valuable, autonomous members of society, organizations like Love146, Wellspring Living, and others are working to combat that lie by pouring love, encouragement and strength into the survivors. And it’s working. Rob Morris of Love146 recently tweeted,
Three of our girls in the Love146 Round Home have just ranked in the top 10 in their entire freshman class in school! Survivors to thrivers!
If you’d like to help but are unsure of how you can directly become involved, check out ways you can raise money and awareness for the organizations that are working to give victims their identity and freedom back:
“From the Love146 Reintegration pamphlet: A safehome is where we nurse the bird’s broken wing. If we do well with our nursing, then the bird should be able to fly again and…soar to the heights it was meant to reach. If it casts a glance at the safehome again, then it should be from above, among the clouds of its achievements.”