I’ve had a bunch of thoughts rolling around in my head lately about aftercare and survivor support. For some reason these thoughts are starting to gel into a list of “P’s”. I’m not sure why that is because, of all people, I hate formulas. Maybe this is to help people remember them better. I contemplated doing a post on each one of these things, because there is so much to say. It’s possible I will also do that someday, but I feel an urgency to get these out here today, so I will do my best to abbreviate.
1. Put Down the Pride – You don’t have the answer. Can I just go ahead and put that out there? I don’t care what degree you have, how many conferences you have attended, how many times you’ve sat theorizing over coffee. Your theories about how to “help” survivors of trafficking are inadequate. Your textbook did not prepare you for this. Neither did your internship, your classes on trauma counseling, or your past experience.
2. Prayer – This is the answer. I would rather have one faithful friend that would pray for me constantly than someone with ten degrees use their theories on me. She needs an encounter with Christ, not your short-lived heroism. You see, it is only when you see your own inadequacy, and are reduced to crying out to God to intervene in a survivor’s life that rescue begins to happen. That’s right, I said rescue. Restoration is not a separate item on the list of how to help trafficking survivors. Restoration completes the rescue. If you are able to physically rescue someone but can’t make sure that someone walks them through restoration, then you have wasted your time. When you learn that God is the only answer – that He alone knows her heart and can supernaturally reach in and heal the nightmare, bit by bit – then you are on the right track. Learn to ask Him over and over to do what you cannot do. That’s the beginning and the end to her healing.
3. Patience – I heard a statistic recently that it takes a survivor of sex trafficking an average of 6 to 8 years to heal. I can attest to this truth. I am one who also wholeheartedly believes that God can do anything in any timing He wants. I am praying and looking for a day when survivors will be healed instantly by His power, and indeed this is probably happening in some cases. However, the truth is, for many, many people, it is a very long, painful process. Are you willing to walk next to someone for that long? Or will you grow tired of the process? Will the hero in you die when things get hard? The key again, is casting everything on Christ. If you can daily acknowledge your powerlessness to change anything for her, and continue to trust His ability to change everything for her, then you stand a chance of being one less loss in her life.
4. Practicality – I heard another survivor talk recently about how important practical help during the healing process is. For someone walking through the thick of healing, everything is hard. Going to the doctor triggers an overwhelming, embarrassing trauma response. Going grocery shopping – or having to do anything alone in a large public place – brings feelings of extreme vulnerability and sometimes overwhelming fear. If you understand a little about complex trauma, then you know that everywhere she turns, there is a trigger. She may not even know or understand what it was, but she can be anywhere and suddenly panic. Thinking straight for long enough to even make the grocery list is a challenge. This is the reason that healing happens so well in the context of community. She needs people around her that she can trust to go to the doctor or the store with her, mow her lawn, bring her a meal. Practical help is huge.
5. (Finally not a P) – Be sensitive and Don’t Make Assumptions – Evil people have been doing horrific things to children and young women forever.
There are survivors among you.
I belong to a local anti-trafficking organization. For safety reasons, I cannot openly divulge the fact that I am a survivor. And I am not the only one in the group I belong to. You can’t be responsible for what you do not know. But you can “treat” survivors with kindness and respect even when you don’t think there are any listening, because there probably are.
It pains me when I am around a group of activists and a comment is made that reflects a stereotypical attitude towards “these girls.” Please hear this – “these girls” are individuals. They all have unique personalities, experiences, ambitions and dreams. Maybe I am out of line and this is my own problem, but it really bothers me to hear someone use the phrase “these girls,” and then go on to make a generalized statement that would somehow apply to all, when it doesn’t. It is somewhat dehumanizing, which by the way, survivors have had enough of. I am simply suggesting that you always watch what comes out of your mouth and the heart and attitude behind your words, being mindful that there is always a chance that the very person you are talking to is a survivor. This approach can only serve to increase your integrity in this fight.