Often when I speak as an anti-trafficking advocate, people ask me, “How can we stop this terrible crime?” Or they exclaim, “We’ve got to arrest all the traffickers! Locking them up will solve this problem right away.” Law enforcement is key, but law enforcement alone is not the answer. When we look at the global crime of human trafficking, we realize that it is one of the most important human rights issues of our time. But we cannot examine this problem as separate from other factors. Poverty, homelessness, addiction and bigotry act as a societal petri dish where the culture of violence and exploitation/human trafficking is produced. Stigma acts as the lid, accelerating its growth and impact. We must face these co-occurring issues to combat and end trafficking.
Criminal justice professionals are working hard to combat trafficking, and they’re continually being trained in trauma-informed approaches. Identification of victims is a primary focus of many top organizations. Prevention and public awareness are a high priority for NGOs. But one key area that continues to be underfunded is in the provision of mental health services and safe, long-term housing for victims and survivors. When people are traumatized, they need a safe space to heal. Trauma resolution and recovery involve lifelong management and long-term recovery. Victims and survivors need a holistic approach to rebuilding their lives and creating safe spaces and places where they can successfully pursue education, build careers, and enjoy happy relationships.
Recovery means self-acceptance and healing. The first step in recovery from trauma is to find a safe place—both internally and externally. Safe housing is essential. And so is a strong social support network. For many survivors, working with a professional trauma therapist is key to learning the tools for trauma resolution. During trauma therapy, I came to understand and see the courage in my actions during the traumatic events. Feeling good about one’s actions in the face of danger is a resilience factor for PTSD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
At ten years clean, I began experiencing flashbacks and suicidal impulses. In a crisis, I entered into trauma therapy with a licensed clinical social worker and began my recovery from PTSD. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), along with mindfulness meditation, helped me to access my inner healing force. With treatment, the nightmares I’d experienced for twenty years finally ceased. I obtained clinical education and training in addiction treatment, where I hold five professional certifications and have known the joy of working with special populations, people with a history of trauma, homelessness and other difficulties along with substance use disorder.
Anti-trafficking advocacy requires courage, stick-to-itiveness, resilience, a strong moral compass, ethics, and many other strengths. This is a marathon, not a sprint. An anti-trafficking advocate and concerned citizens must be in it for the long run. Victims and survivors of both labor and sex trafficking may also be victims of intimate partner violence, and may suffer from PTSD and other mental health issues brought on by the trauma of being trafficked. Many victims and survivors may be homeless, and some may present with symptoms of, or a diagnosis of, substance use disorder. The societal stigma surrounding human trafficking, addiction, and mental illness can prevent doctors from identifying victims. This may also happen in law enforcement situations. Advocates and survivor leaders like me are working to educate the public and to break away the stigma. Traffickers/exploiters use the stigma as a shield for their crimes, and as a tool to control their victims.
Today, I’m a professional humorous inspirational speaker and 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. An empowered survivor leader, I advocate both nationally and at the state level for victims and survivors of human trafficking. In 2015, I was invited to share my expertise at the White House, the Department of State, HHS, and OVC, as a member of a team of empowered survivors from the National Survivor Network, an organization of which I am a member. I serve on the Board of Directors of HEALTrafficking, a united group of multidisciplinary professionals dedicated to ending human trafficking and supporting its survivors, from a public health perspective. Since 2011, I’ve been founder, producer, and emcee of an annual stand-up comedy fundraiser in Indianapolis called Laff-Aholics. The show features nationally headlining comedians with national television credits. One hundred percent of the profits from the show go to transitional housing facilities that serve people working their way up from rock bottom. It’s my way of helping others to find a safe place. After all, I am safe now. I’ve come full circle.
Join me in supporting the movement to end human trafficking and support survivors with safe housing, trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches, and legislative advocacy. You may want to consider donating to one of more of these organizations:
HEALTrafficking: https://healtrafficking.org/ (Public Health)
Justice At Last: https://www.justiceatlast.org/ (Non-profit Law Firm supporting victims/survivors)
Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program: http://www.mentariusa.org/ (Survivor-led non-profit that that continues to support and assist victims and survivors in mentorship, providing resources, advocacy, job training, employment and more.)