Human trafficking is a complicated and potentially overwhelming issue. It is not for the faint of heart. The global struggle can appear impossible to win. But it is not impossible to create positive change. I’ve seen this firsthand, as a survivor, advocate, clinician, and leader. As a survivor, I am often asked, “How did this terrible thing happen to you?” Here, in the first of two consecutive blog posts, I will recount my personal story of surviving trafficking and intimate partner violence, listing the vulnerabilities to my being trafficked. In part two, I’ll discuss key ingredients of recovery for survivors. Every case is individual, but some vulnerabilities are common across all types of trafficking. Trauma is a vulnerability to being trafficked; so are poverty, isolation, and lack of safe housing, and all of these difficulties preceded by being targeted by an exploiter.
Imagine yourself in a faraway country, where you’ve never been before. You don’t speak the language. Upon arrival, you realize you’ve been sold to organized crime figures. You’re isolated in an apartment, under guard, then raped, brutalized, threatened with death. You are compelled to see a man every hour of every day, except when one of them buys up multiple hours of time with you. You cannot refuse any of these men, you meet their demands or face consequences. Cameras record each session: they are mounted high on the walls, in opposite corners of the room; in this way the traffickers establish their omniscience. You’re terrified, but you know you can’t show it — you can’t break down, or cry, either, or you risk being taken somewhere even worse. You have no idea if you’ll ever see your home or your family again.
That’s what happened to me. I am a survivor of international sex trafficking. I was trafficked from San Francisco to Tokyo, and held under the control of Japanese organized crime. But I am one of the lucky ones — I escaped the situation after slightly less than two months. And as an adult victim, I had inner resources to draw upon, street smarts to help me steel myself against the utter insanity of that situation. Within the first twenty-four hours being trafficked, I found my courage. I promised myself I’d be home by Christmas, and that I would treat the people around me with as much basic human respect as I could muster, so I could hang on to who I am. And I made my stand. I clung to the visualization of getting home, and refused to allow any other possibility to enter my thoughts. And at a certain point, one of the men helped me to escape.
I was “low-hanging fruit for a perpetrator. The trafficker recognized all of those vulnerabilities, she offered to “help” me to escape the abusive relationship. The phony offer to help was the initial stage of the fraud, force, and coercion that defined my experience of being trafficked. The organized crime figures used coercion and force to keep me under their control.
As an adolescent, I’d been traumatized multiple times, (sexual assault and abuse at fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen years old), and had suffered adult trauma (sexual assault) as well. After escaping Japan, the trauma of trafficking descended on me like a heavy black curtain. I could not find a safe place within my own mind. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I suffered from severe PTSD. Trust evaporated from my mind and my life after being trafficked. Engulfed in fear and shame, I attempted to manage the trauma with hard drugs. Night terrors plagued me and I feared reprisals from the traffickers. Much like many victims of trauma do, I returned to what was familiar, went back to the abusive boyfriend. He beat me up and almost killed me. I ran away from him, into the redwood country north of San Francisco, where I slept under bridges and in abandoned houses. I dug ditches or chopped firewood for twenty dollars a day to survive. He followed, and whenever he caught up to me, he spit on me, tore my clothes, raped me, verbally or physically assaulted me.
In the middle of all that hell, I met my true love. After a year and a half of absolute rock bottom homelessness, I met a wonderful guy, Christopher Fitzhugh, who is my husband today, and I finally came in from the cold. It wasn’t a storybook romance — he was living a dangerous life, too. But we each found our courage and triumphed against all odds. We pulled ourselves up out of drug addiction and abject poverty. I’ve been clean for more than twenty-two years, and Chris and I have been together for thirty years. My first career after getting clean was in professional standup comedy. That’s cool, isn’t it? Tragedy, then comedy.
Initially, I focused only on my recovery from substance use disorder/addiction. I avoided thinking about the traumatic events that happened when I was trafficked, or the violence I experienced at the hands of the abusive boyfriend. I still didn’t realize that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I knew I had times when I was overwhelmed by anxiety that seemed to float, unattached to any external cause. I managed it the best I could for a long time, and I enjoyed success as a standup comic, went back to school, and continued my reentry into mainstream life. Until the suppressed memories and unresolved trauma erupted and brought me to a crisis point. Like I said, you have to survive the surviving. (Continued in Part Two)
The Landing in Houston, Texas is a drop-in center for victims and survivors of human trafficking. The Landing provides victim-centered, trauma-informed services to clients, and coordinates with many service providers in Houston. Drop-in centers are very important because they meet needs of survivors where they are — the trauma of being trafficked, whether for sex or labor, often leaves victims and survivors homeless, physically injured, lacking identification documents and other basic needs. And victims/survivors may still be within reach of their trafficker, under threat or actively being attacked or pursued. Drop-in centers help with victim identification and can assist law enforcement in apprehending perpetrators. The Landing is a model of a drop-in center, a safe place where a victim/survivor can find empowerment and assistance at every step of the way on the journey to exiting the trafficking situation, and beyond that, to finding employment, housing, education, career, achievement, and happiness.
Keynoter Marti MacGibbon is a nationally renowned professional speaker, an internationally known author, and a nationally recognized human trafficking survivor leader and advocate. Her experiential knowledge, combined with expertise in anti-trafficking — she served on the Indiana Attorney General’s anti-trafficking task force from 2012-2017 — makes her an ideal speaker for anti-trafficking events. And Marti has the ability to bring humor to her presentations. She’s a certified mental health expert with a background in professional standup comedy. At The Landing’s 2nd Annual Breakfast Fundraiser, the audience roared with laughter as she shared stories that connected with everyone’s common experiences, overcoming everyday challenges and fears. Marti’s speech also included deeply moving insights into the courage and resilience of survivors. The Landing reported they’d actually reached their fundraising goal during the period after Marti’s talk. The event was attended by law enforcement, attorneys general, community leaders and faith leaders, citizens and businesses, as well as social services providers, anti-trafficking advocates. Marti signed copies of her bestselling and nationally award-winning memoir, Never Give in to Fear, Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom, donating thirty percent of sales.
Special thanks for permission to publish the three photos in this post. All photo credits to: Hung Photo
Liz Brody of Glamour has written a very powerful, eloquent, and insightful article on women and the opioid epidemic.This piece, released early this week, is available online and in print copies of Glamour magazine. Marti MacGibbon was interviewed, and quotes from Marti on addiction recovery and trauma resolution are included in Chapter 8, along with quotes from national advocates and survivor leaders.
Here is the link to the story: https://www.glamour.com/story/women-and-opioid-epidemic
Marti MacGibbon delivered the opening keynote speech at the North Sound Recovery Coalition’s inaugural National Recovery Month Event in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Five counties in the North Puget Sound area, north of Seattle, participated. The event was sponsored by National Alliance on Mental Illness, North Sound Behavioral Health, and others.
Nationally renowned speaker and author Marti MacGibbon spoke to law enforcement, mental health specialists, community leaders and concerned citizens in Evansville, IN at the Old National Bank Auditorium. Both the event and Marti’s presentation focused on bringing the community together to address the nationwide epidemic of opioid and other drug addiction. Ms. MacGibbon is an award-winning recovery advocate and an expert on trauma resolution and addiction. The event was sponsored by Holly’s House and Ruth’s House. Marti’s talk included both clinical and experiential insights. Her down-to-earth style and ability to add light humor to any presentation makes Marti MacGibbon a popular speaker on such topics as overcoming adversity, mental health awareness, and addiction recovery.
Guest Speaker: Marti MacGibbon, CADC-II, ACRPS
Old National Auditorium
101 Main Street
Thursday July 20th
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Marti MacGibbon, CADC-II, ACRPS, is a nationally renowned humorous speaker and nationally award-winning author. She holds five professional certifications in addiction treatment. Marti delivers a high-energy, often humorous presentation that includes both experiential and clinical insights into the recovery process, and provides tools to reduce stress, build resiliency, avoid burnout, and celebrate progress while facing adversity. She has recovered from and triumphed over nightmare experiences such as being trafficked to Tokyo and held prisoner by Japanese organized crime, homelessness, domestic violence, severe PTSD and hardcore drug addiction.
Facing the Opioid Crisis; Addiction, Recovery & Resilience
You will learn:
Humorous inspirational speaker Marti MacGibbon delivered the keynote speech at the Keys to Sustaining Recovery Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. The conference is designed for substance abuse, mental health, psychology, criminal justice, human services and other healthcare professionals. It was held at Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) Mary C. Nesbitt Biltmore Campus on May 3rd, 4th and 5th of 2017. Marti is author of two nationally award-winning memoirs, Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom and Fierce, Funny, and Female: A Journey Through Middle America, the Texas Oil Field, and Standup Comedy. Ms. MacGibbon is a nationally renowned speaker, internationally known author, and expert on trauma resolution and addiction. Her personal story of triumph over adolescent sexual assault/abuse, addiction, mental illness, human trafficking, domestic violence and homelessness is inspiring, and she’s gifted in that she can tell her story with humor. She has been interviewed in Investors Business Daily and Entrepreneur, and articles she wrote have appeared in the AMA Journal of Ethics, and over 100 corporate and trade magazines.
This year’s Geminus Community Partners Conference in Merrillville, Indiana focused on secondary trauma. Marti MacGibbon delivered the opening keynote speech to an audience that included judges, community leaders, and professionals in a variety of fields: juvenile justice, child protective services, social work, behavioral health, addiction treatment, marriage and family therapy, legal and judicial, and healthcare. Marti’s powerful personal comeback story, clinical expertise, and skill as a humorist all contribute to a dynamic, informative, and inspiring presentation that is also entertaining. Marti also signed copies of her two nationally award-winning memoirs, Fierce, Funny, and Female and Never Give in to Fear.
Marti MacGibbon delivered the closing keynote speech at the Women in Criminal Justice Conference in Galveston, Texas. She followed the keynote with a workshop on stress management, stress reduction and emotional resiliency. The conference, held at the San Luis Resort, featured educational presentations from experts in the criminal justice field. Criminal justice professionals include probation officers, parole officers, correctional officers, legal experts, healthcare in correctional settings, and law enforcement. Marti is both a clinical and experiential expert on trauma resolution and addiction. Her powerful personal story of overcoming adversity, combined with her skill and talent as a humorist, make her presentations both fun and informative. Her message empowers, uplifts, and entertains audiences.