A chart has been developed to offer an overview of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) in the U.S., depicting the infrastructure needed for an effective response network to rescue victims and rehabilitate survivors successfully.
Stories of survivors of sex trafficking contain many similar components which led to their escape/rescue and healing. The vast majority of survivors had the best chance of successfully leaving “the life” when there was a multi-tiered, collaborative response network in place to help them once they were able to leave their traffickers.
From left to right, the chart outlines the influencers surrounding at-risk youth; what the public can do in terms of awareness and prevention; how an exploited victim could have a crisis event and cross over into the service system and those potential points of interaction; and the elements needed to provide for a successful recovery and re-entry into the community.
Begin at the orange circle that says “At-Risk Youth” on the left and follow the arrows from there. You can see what the general public can do to help at-risk youth and victims in the large gray circle on the left.
For the exploited victim, it is extremely difficult to get out of the life. Trapped by fear, bound by their trauma bond, and powerless over their situations, it will usually take some sort of crisis event for them to break through the boundaries their trafficker has instilled and come into contact with the service system.
They can come into contact at various points, such as law enforcement, medical professionals, the child welfare system, social service organizations, a teacher or counselor, or possibly a family member or friend. Wherever they are in a position where they may be able to seek help, it’s critical to have immediate crisis counseling, and then a route to a safe house, in order to help them.
Immediate crisis counseling is needed because of the extreme trauma they have endured. They sometimes do not even think they are victims, and have not escaped their attacker willingly; often, they have been brought into the service system due to a medical emergency or an arrest. Ideally, this crisis counseling would happen before any extensive interviews are done, as early interviews can result in retraumatization, and the victim may shut down completely and/or run right back into the hands of their traffickers. In fact, a victim will come into contact with the service system and/or try to escape their situation six times (meaning they return to their traffickers six times), before they actually successfully are able to finally leave the life.
After immediate crisis counseling, the second biggest need of a victim is a safe place to stay, where they are protected from their traffickers. Victims often end up in juvenile detention programs which are too rigid and unforgiving, and/or foster homes which are not prepared for traumatized victims. Sexual assault crisis centers and homeless shelters for youth also can offer temporary safe housing to victims, but they are not always equipped to meet the complex needs of a human trafficking survivor.
An ideal safe house location is one in which they will be provided a wide range of services that are individualized, trauma-informed, culturally sensitive and age appropriate. They also need the option to stay long term, as their healing process is complex.
In addition to their basic needs of shelter, food, and clothing, many need medical attention, in particular for past abuse, STDs and possible pregnancies. Mental health consequences of the life often include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, chronic pain, and other physical and emotional manifestations of significant and extended trauma. Counseling by a therapist trained in helping victims of trafficking is imperative to the healing process.
Mentoring is a huge part of the recovery process as well. Victims need to develop a relationship with someone they can trust; someone who can convince them that they truly care about them. Mentoring is even more successful if a survivor can be involved. Having those shared experiences helps victims realize that what happened is not their fault, and that they do have worth and value, and can live a happy, productive life.
In addition, they will likely need legal counsel and advocacy; drug/alcohol rehabilitation, spiritual guidance, child care and skills training to prepare them to re-enter the community.
There are a handful of safe houses in the U.S. to address this need. However, they have minimal capacity. The positive news is that as awareness of human trafficking continues to rise, more organizations which serve these survivors are able to raise funding needed to set up safe houses in their areas.
As more victims are able to leave the life and more survivors share their stories, we will be able to use their input and feedback to enhance and expand tools like this chart—to create even stronger, more prepared response networks to end human trafficking.