I continue to choose to blog anonymously for many reasons. One of the benefits of this is that I never have to consider what “so and so” is thinking about me now that they know something I just wrote about my story. I am free to share whatever I like here, because even the friends who know I was trafficked do not know that I write this blog. It is safer for me emotionally this way. To speak or to share about my experience in person even with someone I trust and hold dear sends waves of fear through me. It’s horribly hard to give actual voice to any of it. Sharing always comes with a huge emotional cost.
There is something about speaking our stories that brings healing. When we are silenced by our abusers, the breaking of that silence brings about a portion of our healing. However, when we are silenced by ignorant people in our healing process, deep, new wounds emerge. My healing is incomplete today in large part because of these very wounds.
I last wrote about the pride of some people in the abolition movement. I have seen it, experienced it, and am nauseated by it….. But I also realize: What looks like PRIDE can actually be IGNORANCE instead – in some cases. And that’s one of the reasons why I keep writing. Because I truly believe that there are good-hearted people in this movement that are just ignorant.
As I connect with other survivors, I hear a resounding theme. Survivors are being re-traumatized by the very people who want to help them.
To illustrate, here’s a sampling of some of the things I’ve heard personally over the years, said by counselors, pastors, and other well-meaning Christian “friends” and people:
- Well if you forgot about it, how do you know it’s really true?
- How is it even possible to rape a child that young? (Are they really asking me to explain that to them?)
- So, when you say that you just checked out and became someone else, does that mean you were like that girl Sybil in that movie?
- Why are you afraid now? Hasn’t it been a really long time? Do you really think that someone is following you or watching you now? (or do you think you’re just paranoid? – the unspoken part of that question)
- The Bible says we should not have a spirit of fear, so do you think God really wants you to be afraid now?
- Are you afraid that you will just snap one day and hurt someone? (Yes, I’m actually feeling the urge RIGHT NOW!)
- Did you abuse other children?
- Well, I’ve never heard of anything like that – you must be making it up. (This was actually said by a degreed counselor)
- Well, how long can healing take?
- You seem so normal. I would never have guessed.
- Why would your father do that? Did he need money? (Would that have made it ok? And no, he didn’t. He lusted for POWER. Why is that a hard concept for people? Empires have risen and fallen throughout history – all because of the lust of power. It is a driving force in the world)
Now that you know some of the things you should never say, what I really want to give voice to here today is how to honor a survivor’s story and to preserve its sacred value.
Because of the awareness of trafficking exploding right now, all sorts of people are eager to hear survivors’ stories. One reason for this was expressed by a reader of this blog who commented a few days ago:
“thank you so much for spilling your heart time and time again. the world NEEDS this info so badly. As a previous commentor mentioned, this is absolutely invaluable. your beautiful words are helping to shape me into the person I want and need to be. bless you!”
When I read something like this, I am struck to the core and filled with new hope. It’s people like Caitlin and so many others who have commented on my blog with compassion and gratitude, whom I’ve never met, that encourage me, humble me, and keep me writing. That God would use my words to really help someone to become what God is asking them to become – well, there are not words for how honored that makes me feel. But mostly, I am undone by Caitlin’s humility.
Sadly, not all people who are interested in survivors’ stories are so well motivated. Many journalists, activists, and organizational leaders are interested in these stories for a number of selfish reasons. They want the newest, most compelling story to tell, or to tout that they have a survivor in their organization, or they are simply interested in satisfying their own curiosities.
As survivors we must guard our hearts and preserve the sacred nature of our stories. Another survivor gives voice to this in such an excellent post about staying in control of your story here. She so appropriately titles her post “Tears of a Clown”, referring to the way people often exploit the stories of survivors for their own personal reasons, just as everyone wants to see a clown, but no one really wants to know them.
If you are a trafficking survivor, learn to honor your own story by only telling it because it is your choice to tell it, and because you are gaining healing through the telling. If you tell it to help others, do that because you are strong enough to do it, not because someone tells you that’s what you should do. You don’t “owe” your story to anyone but God. Ask Him what HE wants you to do with it.
Abolitionists, your number one goal should be to create a culture of honor that is safe for the survivors in your midst. Remember that their stories are sacred. I recently heard a precious woman say of survivors’ stories: “They are recorded in heaven, and will someday be told in heaven’s courts.” Amen.
Never, ever ask a question of a survivor without first thinking, “Am I asking this question for ME, or for HER?” If you are simply trying to satisfy your own curiosity, then stop yourself and don’t ask. Instead, consider whether you are creating a safe space around her, and if you are honoring her by giving her space to use her voice to heal. If you can do so in a way that is affirming and honoring, then great! When she is done sharing, don’t act like it didn’t happen. Take the time to grieve it with her, and to acknowledge and rejoice in what God is doing in her. Remember that what she has just shared with you, cost her tremendously, and has left her in a vulnerable place. Be present with her in that vulnerable place until the fear has passed.
And finally, remember that if you have been called to abolition work, it is for a reasons that are beyond you. Recognizing that a survivor’s story is a sacred thing and sticking around long enough to get to know not only her story, but WHO she really is – who God created her to be – will be a huge blessing to her and to you. Her story will indeed be told in the courts of heaven, but if God gives you the opportunity to be among those who will hear and validate a survivor’s story here on earth, then decide now that you will do that in a way that preserves her dignity and honors her and her story without further exploitation.