10, May, 2018

Marti MacGibbon is Plenary Keynote Speaker at Villanova Law School Symposium

Humorous inspirational speaker Marti MacGibbon delivered a stirring and informative keynote presentation at a conference organized by the CSE Institute of the Villanova School of Law in Philadelphia. Her session, entitled, The Intersection of Commercial Sexual Exploitation/Human Trafficking, Addiction, and Trauma, included the following learning objectives:

1. Learn to assess the connection between CSE/human trafficking, trauma, addiction, and stress
2. Understand the connection between CSE and the current opioid epidemic, and recognize how exploiters use addiction as a tool of coercion
3. Know how to differentiate between clinical facts about addiction and myths and misconceptions about addiction
4. Be able to list resiliency factors and risk factors of PTSD
5. Recognize and understand trauma behaviors and addictive behaviors and how they can be mistaken for behaviors related to non-compliance, combativeness

In the current opioid crisis (As in the past), survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are being incarcerated and doubly stigmatized, and many never receive access to trauma-informed and victim-centered treatment for either trauma or addiction. This makes successful recovery and trauma resolution more difficult for this vulnerable population. But recovery is possible, and survivors prove very resilient when provided with trauma-informed tools for healing and self-care. Marti also touched upon self-care recommendations for advocates and other service providers to manage stress, and avoid burnout and secondary trauma when working with traumatized populations. She also educated listeners about the connection between stress and addiction, trauma and addiction, and how fear and shame fuel addiction.

Marti MacGibbon is a national survivor leader and nationally award-winning author who uses humor, inspiration, and presents with an easy-going, down-to-earth style. She has survived and recovered from adolescent sexual assault/abuse/exploitation, adult CSE/human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, addiction, homelessness, and complex PTSD. She holds five professional certifications in addiction treatment and is an expert on trauma resolution. Marti shares aspects of her powerful personal story of recovery, hope, and second chances in a simple, effective way that also imparts clinical insights into addiction and trauma, as well as stress management and relapse prevention.

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30, Apr, 2018

How Trauma-Informed Practices Aid Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention

Empower Victims and survivors

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

I’m a survivor of sexual assault, abuse, and exploitation, as well as intimate partner violence, and for the past eight years I’ve been actively engaged in advocacy for victims and survivors. Sexual assault carries both heavy stigma and high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder for victims. Mistaken beliefs about sexual assault and rape myths abound, and victim blaming is commonplace. Still, we’ve made some real progress. As I write these words, the month is coming to an end, with two separate watershed events occurring during the final week of April 2018.

First was the Bill Cosby verdict. A Pennsylvania jury found Mr. Cosby guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. This was the first high-profile rape trial since the #MeToo movement accelerated into the mainstream several months ago. For many observers, and especially survivors, Cosby’s conviction appears to herald a sea change in societal attitudes toward victims of sexual assault. And it’s about time! Years ago, when the Cosby case began to unfold and I began to follow it, it seemed to me no one listened to the women who came forward. They were denigrated, blamed, ridiculed and accused of lying with the aim of extorting money from a rich and famous celebrity. It wasn’t till forty-eight women came spoke out that their stories began to gain credibility. Finally, sixty women in all have formally accused Mr. Cosby of sexual assault, abuse, or misconduct.

The second event was the arrest of a suspect after a forty-year-old hunt for the violent serial rapist and murderer known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and most recently, the Golden State Killer. Sacramento police apprehended Joseph James DeAngelo in his home in Citrus Heights, having tracked him through DNA. Authorities say the Golden State Killer is responsible for at least forty-five rapes, twelve murders, and countless break-ins all over California since the Seventies. The Golden State killer terrorized communities and left no evidence at crime scenes, leading police to surmise the perp likely came from a law enforcement or military background. DeAngelo, now seventy-two years old, once worked as a police officer, and served in the Navy during the Vietnam war.

What can be learned from these events that can help us improve our society’s level of sexual assault awareness and improve our communities’ efforts at prevention?

Educate the general public about rape-specific trauma and how it affects victims.

We need to build a trauma-informed culture. When we blame and shame victims of sexual assault, we exacerbate the risk, severity and duration of their post-traumatic stress. Victim self-blame is related to post-traumatic stress disorder in many different kinds of trauma. But research by Avigail Moor and Moshe Farshi of Tel-Hai Academic College School of Social Work reveals that self-blame following rape is dramatically more extreme:

Given typical societal victim-blaming following rape, self-blame is expected to be considerably more extreme among survivors of rape than in other victims, and predictive of relatively elevated post-trauma symptoms. Three hundred and four participants completed measures of blame attribution and PTSD, sustaining the hypothesis.

Studies have shown that the prevalence of PTSD among sexual assault victims and survivors is significant, and that both victim self-blame and societal blame/stigma pose barriers to PTSD treatment and recovery. To learn more about specific trauma associated with rape, read Sexual Assault and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of the Biological, Psychological and Sociological Factors and Treatments, by K. A. Chivers-Wilson, McGill Journal of Medicine.

Train first responders, law enforcement, medical and mental health professionals in trauma-informed practices.

Early in the Golden State Killer’s bloody spree, in 1977, a Sacramento Sheriff’s detective named Carol Daly gave tutorials on self-defense to a terrorized citizenry, and treated rape victims with deference and respect. She did all of this at a time when sexual assault survivors were often re-victimized by law enforcement, and by the attitudes and reactions of friends and family. Detective Daly is worthy of praise. I was sexually assaulted in the Seventies. After escaping the rapist, I reported the crime to the police, and was re-victimized and re-traumatized by their attitude and response. And yes, they asked me what I was wearing. We’ve come a long way since the Seventies, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. When I travel the U.S. as a humorous inspirational speaker, young women tell me they have had similar experiences with municipal and campus police alike.

Put an end to punishing sexual assault survivors for speaking out.

As the Cosby case drew attention in the media, people asked, “Why did it take these women years to report the assaults?” In her 2006 paper in the American Journal of Community Psychology, Being Silenced: The Impact of Negative Social Reactions on the Disclosure of Rape, Courtney E. Ahrens writes how negative reactions silence victims of rape:

Rape survivors who speak out about their assault experiences are often punished for doing so when they are subjected to negative reactions from support providers. These negative reactions may thereby serve a silencing function, leading some rape survivors to stop talking about their experiences to anyone at all…Three routes to silence were identified: 1) negative reactions from professionals led survivors to question whether future disclosures would be effective; 2) negative reactions from friends and family reinforced feelings of self-blame; and 3) negative reactions from either source reinforced uncertainty about whether their experiences qualified as rape.”

When sexual assault victims encounter victim-blaming, they are discouraged from reporting the incident. Myths about rape and societal stigma, along with stereotypes about victims — for instance, that “a certain kind of girl” is likely to be raped, can keep a victim from coming forward and seeking help. This is why the #MeToo movement precipitated so many stories from both men and women, stories that involved events from the past that the victims had held back for years. Another stereotype is that of the “legitimate rape” or “real rape.” Rape victims internalize these myths and stereotypes. The self-blame causes victims and survivors to believe that they are not worthy of support, that they “got what they deserved” for going out alone at night, or in the case of Mr. Cosby, of going to his house. And often the people closest to the victim universally reinforce these myths, misconceptions, shames and blames.

Empower Victims and Survivors.

Self-Empowerment techniques enable independence, self-assurance, and self-actualization along the healing path. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a recommended therapy for trauma. It helped me. Cognitive Reframing benefited me as well. But most of all, the therapeutic relationship between me and my trauma therapist was the vehicle that enabled my healing and empowerment. Transformative relationships happen along the path to recovery, and we can discover many different ways to comfort and support one another. You can become naturally therapeutic in all your relationships, and in doing so, you transform your environment.

In her essay, From Victim to Empowered Survivor, Dr. Avigail Moor, PhD, who has worked extensively with survivors of sexual assault, recommends what she calls “Feminist Therapy”:

It is a relationship in which clients are empowered to find their strengths and strivings, a practice in which growth-promoting reframing of social realities allows for new ways of thinking and being. It is a process of connectedness in which each client is made to feel worthy of respect, affection, tenderness, and judgment-free acceptance, an endeavor of caring…

Be kind to yourself and others.

We can all use a lot more kindness, empathy, empowerment, and compassion in our lives today. Let’s educate ourselves about how to treat ourselves and others around us, with respect, dignity, and generosity. Let’s forgive ourselves and others, and focus on ways to find beauty and grace in our daily lives.

Self-kindness is not only for trauma survivors, it’s for everyone. Here’s something I do when facing challenges or feeling off-center:

Take a moment to reflect on the things that matter most to you. Ask yourself, “Who do I love, and who loves me?” Pause and give thanks for every friend, mentor, or stranger who ever did you a kindness. Make a mental note of the people you’d like to help or uplift or do a kindness for. Remember a past obstacle or hardship you’ve overcome and draw strength from acknowledging that victory. As you face the future, tell yourself, “I stand in love, I speak from strength, I move forward with purpose and meaning. No matter the outcome, I am enough, in this moment, just as I am.”

Fierce, Funny and Female Cover of BookMarti MacGibbon, CADC-II, ACRPS, has survived and triumphed over human trafficking, childhood sexual assault/abuse, rape, and domestic violence. She is a popular keynote speaker and an advocate for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. Marti is author of the nationally and internationally award-winning memoir, Fierce, Funny, and Female, a dramatic and humorous story of empowerment and resilience.

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21, Apr, 2018

Marti MacGibbon is Featured Speaker/Trainer on Human Trafficking 101 in Sacramento

Marti-MacGibbon-Speaker-Trainer-on-Human-TraffickingMarti MacGibbon, CADC-II, was featured Speaker/Trainer on Human Trafficking 101 at the Dignity Health hospital staff retreat on April 27th in Rancho Cordova, CA. The training, developed by Dignity Health’s Director of Human Trafficking Response Program, Holly Gibbs. Marti is an empowered survivor and advocate and is an expert on human trafficking, trauma resolution, and addiction. Ms. MacGibbon has engaged in legislative advocacy for victims and survivors of human trafficking at the national level. She is a well-known humorous motivational speaker and is the author of two critically acclaimed and nationally award-winning memoirs: Fierce, Funny, and Female and Never Give in to Fear.

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20, Mar, 2018

Make History During Women’s History Month: Toss the Gender Stereotypes!

Marti Toss Gender Stereotypes

Women all over the world are making history. The #MeToo movement has elevated women’s voices as they stand up against sexual harassment in the workplace. Females of all ages are speaking up and speaking out on a number of issues, including equal pay, equal representation in leadership, elimination of gender bias, better prenatal and postnatal care, and justice for victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

Celebrate Women’s History Month by listening to what women are saying. We speak with music, science, art, literature, activism, advocacy, friendship, love, and justice. Women bring life into the world, not only biologically, but spiritually, emotionally, and socially. We do this creatively and ingeniously. And yet, in certain contexts, people are more likely to associate creativity with men rather than women, a bias based on male and female stereotypes. That’s what a 2015 paper by Devon Proudfoot, Aaron Kay, and Christy Koval at the Fuqua School of Business suggests. In several experiments, they discovered that “outside the box” creativity is “…more strongly associated with stereotypically masculine characteristics (e.g., daring and self-reliance) than with stereotypically feminine characteristics (e.g., cooperativeness and supportiveness).” 

In their series of studies, Proudfoot, Kay, and Koval also found that a man is credited with more creativity that a woman, even when their individual output is identical, and that men’s ideas are evaluated as more ingenious that women’s ideas. They also discovered that female executives are evaluated as less innovative than their male colleagues, and that when men engage in stereotypically male behavior (like independence and self-direction) others’ perception of them as creative increases. However, when women display the same behaviors, it does not enhance their perceived creativity. No wonder there still are so few women in top executive positions!  You can read their entire paper here.

Let’s banish the worn-out old gender stereotypes. It’s essential and beneficial for both women and men to be aware that sexism, with its biases, myths, and misconceptions, is still deeply entrenched in our institutions, society, attitudes, and beliefs. Science needs an overhaul as badly as business does. When we’re asked to imagine a clueless person who needs complex concepts to be broken down and simplified, the “someone” is often described as female — an elderly aunt, a grandmother, a mother, or even a barmaid. That’s actually a thing! The ability to explain a theory, research, etc., in terms so basic they can be written on a cocktail napkin is known as “Barmaid Physics.” Josie Glausiusz, a journalist in Israel who writes about science and the environment for magazines including Nature, National Geographic, and American Scholar, covers this brilliantly in a piece published in Scientific American today, March 20th:

Along with many other science journalists, I have encountered this stereotype time and again. We are advised to ask scientists to explain their research to “your granny,” “to your mother or a ninth-grader,” to “Aunt Gladys.” As Einstein supposedly said in innumerably repeated memes, “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” (The quote is “probably not by Einstein,” according to the Ultimate Quotable Einstein, published by Princeton University Press.) In another iteration often attributed to Ernest Rutherford, one doesn’t fully understand a phenomena, theory, concept, principle, or law, etc., completely, until one can explain it to a barmaid (or child), e.g. in simple words, or on a cocktail napkin. This is sometimes called “Barmaid Physics.”

The well-worn formula is a prime example of the subtle ways in which sexism pervades science in a manner so entrenched that it is difficult to recognize. We are never asked to explain science to “your dad” or “your granddad.” “‘Explain it like you would explain it to your middle-aged Uncle Bob,’ said no one ever,” notes Leah Fey, subject investigation analyst at PreScouter, Inc. The advice “assumes that “Mom” and “Grandma” are either stupid or uneducated—either way, are incapable of comprehending anything technical,” adds Jen Pinkowski, Senior Science Editor at Mental Floss. 
Take a moment to read Josie Glausiusz’ wonderful blog post here.

Throughout history, despite prejudice and sexism, females have triumphed, and will continue to do so. Hmmm…winning out against all odds? Hey, a heroic feat like that must take daring, self-reliance, independence and self-direction — “stereotypically male attributes” — to achieve. And let’s not forget to show some cooperativeness and supportiveness — “stereotypically female attributes,” toward women as we move forward. Women must fight to achieve each stage of progress, and must defend every triumph in order to sustain that hard-won progress for the generations that follow. Good thing we’re up to the task.

Fierce, Funny and Female Cover of BookIf you’d like to read my personal story of smashing female stereotypes, and get some laughs along the way, check out Fierce, Funny, and Female: A Journey Through Middle America, the Texas Oil Field, and Standup Comedy

Read More About the Book

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19, Mar, 2018

Marti MacGibbon Speaks at 10th Annual Human Trafficking Conference in Sacramento

Humorous inspirational speaker and human trafficking survivor leader Marti MacGibbon delivered the closing keynote at the 10th Annual Human Trafficking Conference, “A Trauma-Informed Response to Human Trafficking Victims,” at California State University, Sacramento. The conference, attended by more than 530 participants, included survivors, law enforcement, attorneys, service providers, advocates and community members. The conference organizer, My Sister’s House, an organization dedicated to ending sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking in the Sacramento area. Their website cites their mission statement, “To serve Asian and Pacific Islander and other underserved women and children impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking by providing a culturally appropriate and responsive safe haven, job training, and community services.”

Marti’s presentation followed a day of intensive panels and discussions surrounding human trafficking. The conference event planners wanted to end the day on a lighter note with a focus on techniques for trauma-informed self-care. Since Marti tailors each presentation to meet the specific needs of each event planner, her talk provided the audience with humor, inspiration, and evidence-based strategies for trauma-informed self-care. Nilda Valmores, Executive Director at My Sister’s House, says, “Marti did a great job at using her humorous approach to share a piece of her story and provide the audience with different techniques for self-care. Working with Marti was very seamless. She was always responsive with email and phone calls and made sure there were no gaps following up the conference. The best recommendation we can give a speaker is that we hope to use her services again. This is especially true regarding Marti.”

In addition to entertaining and inspiring the audience with her humorous speech, Marti signed copies of her two nationally award-winning memoirs, Never Give in to Fear and Fierce, Funny, and Female.

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14, Feb, 2018

Why Doing Something Nice for Someone Grumpy Pays Off

National do a grouch a favor day

February 16th is National Do a Grouch a Favor Day, a call to kindness in the name of a grouch. You can celebrate this occasion in a variety of ways — and whether you are the “grouch-er” or the “grouch-ee” doesn’t matter, your kind act will benefit you either way. We’ve all been ill-tempered, irritable, or complained too much, and we all know somebody who engages in those behaviors. There’s no shame in being a grouch: comedian Lewis Black built a very successful and celebrated career on grumpy rants. During my research for this post, I discovered a West Coast independent hip-hop artist with the stage name, The Grouch, and I downloaded some of his music. I also was reminded of the classic Sesame Street character, Oscar the Grouch. Whether you know a grouch, work for or with a grouch, or you are one, take a moment to celebrate it. And you may want to watch a clip of Oscar the Grouch in action, or check out that hip-hop artist, The Grouch. His song, “Breath” is upbeat and a good one to start with.

Now, about doing a grouch a favor…

Over the past decade, research has shown that being kind to others can result in more life satisfaction and maybe even more happiness. In a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology, scientists instructed one group of test subjects to do a kindness for three people each day over a ten-day period, instructed a second group to do three new things over the same time period, while a third group were instructed to do nothing at all for the same number of days. All test subjects reported on their level of life satisfaction and sense of well-being. The results showed that the group who did nothing reported no change. Both the group doing the kind acts and the group engaging in new experiences reported an improvement in mood and life satisfaction. But the group doing kind things for others reported the highest levels of happiness.

Research on the kindness to happiness connection abound. In a University of Oxford study, scholars reviewed metadata on the many studies and reported that being kind to others does make you ‘slightly happier,’ but they added that the happiness uptick is only an increase of about one point on a ten-point scale. That’s still significant — especially if you’re a grouch.

If you’re the grouch, do yourself a favor. When you show yourself kindness, the benefits are the same. Self-kindness and compassion really do work. You can give yourself a break, buy yourself something, or use positive self-talk to build yourself up. Or you can motivate yourself to be kind and good to others by learning how people who engage in positive behavior are more likely to be well-liked, more productive and happier. Kindness counts.

When you’re kind to strangers, friends and loved ones alike, you build your kindness potential — continue that practice and the behavior becomes a habit. And you may want to include charitable spending in your strategy. The amount of money doesn’t matter, it’s the giving to another. In the Journal of Happiness Studies, one research project published shows evidence for a positive feedback loop between spending for the good of others and happiness.

Do you have a special grump in your family?

Giving your support to a loved one has shown to benefit you as much as it benefits the one you are supporting. We talk a lot about the power of being connected to a positive support network, but sometimes we tend to think of only connecting to receive support. The truth is, both giving and receiving are equally important in the process of being connected. A study published in the Psychosomatic Medicine Journal shows that when you’re giving support, the rewards in your brain include stress reduction and other soothing neural bonuses.

Oscar the Grouch for National Do a Grouch A Favor DaySo, do you think you’re ready to celebrate National Do a Grouch a Favor Day?

Are you wondering exactly which kind acts you’ll engage in? Don’t worry!

The Kindness.org site offers interactive ways to get started on your kindness plan. Think of it as joining a goodwill gym and building your kindness muscles. Put on some hip hop by The Grouch, and do some reps! In the arena where kindness takes on grouchiness, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

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29, Jan, 2018

Build and Explore Your Creativity

January is International Creativity Month, an opportunity to increase and explore your creativity and innovative spark. You can also celebrate the creativity of your colleagues, family and friends. I recently stumbled across this fun fact myself, while researching ways to ramp up creativity in the brain. Incidentally, that’s one of the cool things about creativity — when you seek, you find. As with gratitude or courage, when you open your mind to it, it spurs you to discover more of it in yourself, others, and the world around you.

You may think of creativity as something you have to be born with, or as a strength attributed to certain individuals. You may think creativity is domain of geniuses: famous artists, inventors, musicians, writers, philosophers — people at the top of the creativity ladder who deliver entertainment, art, and innovative breakthroughs to consumers in the general population. But everyone is creative to a certain degree.The truth is you can build your creativity in everyday life, and use it to maintain enthusiasm and emotional resiliency.

When you’re facing change, problems or stressors, try viewing them as opportunities to become more creative. When you envision opportunities, it opens your mind to possibilities and positive outcomes. And because you’re shifting your focus away from problems alone, and onto solutions, you might even have some fun during the process.

Here are a few simple ways to increase your creativity:

Professional Speaker Marti MacGibbonImmerse Yourself in Nature. Life in our modern world is filled with distractions like TV, cellphones, computers…not to mention leaf blowers, car alarms, and traffic noise, including the wail of police, fire and ambulance sirens. All of this takes a toll on what scientists call attentional resources. According to a research article in Public Library of Science (PLOS), the brain’s prefrontal cortex-mediated executive attentional system, the part that engages with technology, multitasking and staying focused on the goal at hand, can become depleted from dealing with all those incoming status updates, emails and calls. The good news is: interactions with nature are very effective at restoring the executive attentional system of the brain.

Research suggests that another benefit of exposure to nature engages what is called “default mode” networks of the brain— so your mind can be open to introspection, contemplation, and soft fascination. Modern society is loaded with sudden, sharp interruptions and distractions, even when you’re giving all your energy to completing a project or task. If you’ve been sitting at your desk for hours, and are starting to feel burnt out, you’ll benefit from a trip to a park, hiking trail, botanical garden or anywhere you can feast your eyes, ears and other senses on nature. And while you’re there, stay off your phone! In a natural setting, you can recharge and get in touch with your creative, contemplative center.

The PLOS research article reports that in the study sample of 56 adults involved in Outward Bound expeditions, “…four days immersed in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity problem-solving task in a full 50% of hikers…”

Fifty percent! That’s an excellent payoff for a walk in the park or a picnic under a shade tree — as long as there’s a corresponding disconnection from media and tech. Of course, the study did focus on four days of immersion in nature, but even a five percent increase would be vital to your performance. And if you make a practice of spending time in a natural setting every day, or three days a week, on a regular basis over a year, you’ll definitely see results. So drop that phone and go hug a tree.

Get Some Distance: Think About Distant Things. Creativity means thinking outside the box, especially if the box is far away in time or space. Social psychologists have discovered that creativity may change depending on situation and context. Psychological distance helps you to get better at innovation and problem solving. Scientific American, in an article entitled, An Easy Way to Increase Creativity states:

According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance: “Anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the ‘psychologically distant category. It’s also possible to induce a state of ‘psychological distance’ simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person’s perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely.”

You can establish psychological distance by thinking about another time or place. For instance, what if you won a hundred million dollars in the lottery ten years ago — where would you be today? Think: New Year’s Eve, Antartica, 2025, then put together a story around it. Let your mind wander. Have fun. Or you can create a scenario from the distant past. Try a few different ways, and see what works for you. You can also travel to distant places, plan a trip, or learn about events in history or prehistory that stimulate your creative flow. Imagine the distant future. Make it fun.

Meditate. Mindfulness is a wonderful and relaxing way to strengthen your creative spark. Meditation promotes divergent thinking, the state of mind where creativity happens.

Writing — The Old-Fashioned Way. Carrie Barron, M.D., and Alton Barron, M.D., authors of The Creativity Cure, recommend jotting things down by hand, with a pen and paper, to stimulate creativity. Next time you find yourself stalled at the keyboard, grab your notepad and give it a try.

Look at the Sky on a Clear Day. Research has shown that looking at the color blue boosts creativity, while red stimulates attention to detail.

There you go! Now you’ve got a few more days left to observe International Creativity Month. But you can exercise your creativity muscles any day of the year. And while you’re creating, remember to have fun!

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11, Jan, 2018

Survivor Resilience: Trauma Resolution, Empowerment, and Recovery (Part Two)

Anti-trafficking Advocate National human trafficking awareness day
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. 

Anti-trafficking Advocate

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.)
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Survivor Resilience: Overcoming Human Trafficking, Trauma, and Addiction (Part One)

Vulnerabilities of being human trafficked

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

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 survived. But escape is only the beginning.

You have to survive the surviving.

My vulnerabilities to being human trafficked as an adult were:


  1. A history of adolescent sexual abuse/assault
  2. Sheer desperation trying to escape an abusive relationship
  3. Poverty: I was living in my car, living hand to mouth
  4. I’d had no permanent address in several months, not even a P.O. Box.


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)

29, Dec, 2017

Marti MacGibbon, Human Trafficking Expert, Speaks On Overcoming Human Trafficking

Marti MacGibbon Professional Speaker, Author, Human Trafficking Survivor

Staff of The Landing, with Marti MacGibbon, human trafficking survivor

Staff of The Landing, with Marti MacGibbon, celebrating a successful event and reaching their fundraising goal.


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.

A 2016 University of Texas research study found that 313,000 Texans are now human trafficking victims.

Marti MacGibbon with her human trafficking survivor memoir Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom

Marti signing copies of Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom. Marti donated thirty percent of her sales.


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

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