We hear many things about survivors. How brave they are, how it’s a miracle that they are still alive, etc. Whatever the situation was, this person is here to tell their story. But what happens after their story is told? Over and over again. There is another level of survivor that they now must go through, the level of survivng. Mental traumas lead to mental breakdowns, PTSD becomes a lifelong struggle and the world is not a kind place for someone who fights with these issues. Imagine being afraid just to go to the grocery store on the corner because you know there are look outs waiting for the chance to see you alone to re-victimze you. The slightest glance from a stranger can send you into a frenzy and someone accidently brushing your arm turns into a full blown attack. These are triggers, triggers that a lot of human trafficking survivors must survive if they are to continue to live a full, independent and purposeful life.
Encouraging a survivor to constantly relive their nightmare by speaking of their story on a continuous basis sets them up for severe trauma. How are they supposed to move on if no one is allowing them. This is used by countless organizations for funding purposes with little regard for the survivors well being because, “it’s okay you know, we’re giving them counseling.” No amount of “counseling” is going to release them from the constant pain that they feel every time they tell they’re story. It makes me think of the Yazidi women and girls who were kidnapped by Isis and turned into sex slaves. These women have suffered severe trauma on many fronts. When they tell their stories-which are incredibly horrific-they cry uncontrollably. There’s a reason for that. They don’t want to remember, they just want to move on. But yet here they are on almost every international news media station telling their story-yet again being re-traumatized. They have escaped and survived Isis, now they must learn how to keep surviving when the onslaught of media, NGOs and society come pounding on their door.
If there is one thing that I have learned doing this work is that no matter where a survivor is from, they are all treated the same. Governments, NGOs, Non Profits and even well intentioned Activists all play a part in re-victimizing them. Sickening enough, some of them know what they are doing is wrong but they keep doing it because it makes them look like a “Good Person.” There are programs that will sheild and offer safety, but they also create dependence. It’s like if you want us to help you, you need to do something for us so you will continue to get our help. Too many survivors know the familiarity of this statement. Give something to get something. This is not the way to help survivors and try to end human trafficking because this method will more than likely push them back into slavery. Co-dependence, overworked and underpaid counselors, services that do not meet their needs and dealing with a lifetime of depression are just some of the elements that will push them into being re-trafficked.
Once a person has made it to survivor they must learn what that actually means and the current definition is not doing it justice. It’s not enough to be a survivor, you must learn how to survive so that you will not be re-victimized.