Those of us that work in this, for lack of a better word, industry of supporting women and girls and helping them down that path to true freedom, we can all agree that it should not stop there. What happens when the counseling ends? When the monthly support group is over? Or when the funding runs out for the program that promised stable communication with a social worker and case manager? There is an unsettling trend that is happening, women and girls are going back to “The Life” because there is no one there in the times when they REALLY need someone. When they just need to talk and the counselor/social worker has clocked out for the day and is feeling burnt out. When they’re depressed because they are having a hard time finding a job, a home, a babysitter. Or when they’ve had nightmares of what their exploiter had done to them but comparing it to no job, no money, no place to live and wondering if it’s better to go back to him? Rationalizing that yes, he beat me and I have to do a lot of things I don’t want to but I had a roof over my head, I knew how to get by, he was my only family.
The biggest gap in services for survivors of sex trafficking is aftercare. This is a piece that is sorely lacking in many service providing organizations. And it’s not because they don’t care, it’s because they have so many other badly needed services to attend to and making sure there is adequate funding as well as getting women and girls a safe place to stay when they are no longer under the control of their exploiter. But here’s the beauty of aftercare, you don’t need much funding, you may not need any at all. This is a program that once it is launched it can take care of itself. Aftercare can pick up where counseling ends, when the appointment with the social worker is over and when group therapy is no longer available. You already have the people who will run it. The survivors. The only thing you need, and you don’t need to fundraise for it-is love. That should be the basic foundation for any aftercare program.
Real love is what these women and girls crave. Someone who truly cares about them and is interested in how they are doing. Survivors are the perfect structure and they can give other survivors REAL empowerment and support, they’ve been through it, they know it hurts and they know the importance having someone there when they need them the most. They understand the late night phone calls, the panic attacks, fear of their exploiter and lack of family. So the goal then is to create sisterly bonds that will come naturally-and they will come. I am not saying that every single woman or girl will be receptive at first but with patient love and a non judgmental attitude, they will come around.
New York City has a lot, but not this. I intend to bring it to this city that I was born and raised in. And as I said, my model is simple, it is free, it is love.