By using a trauma-informed, victim and survivor-centered approach, professionals can empower recovery by shifting the question from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?"
The effects of trauma follow survivors of human trafficking throughout the remainder of their lives. Providing survivors with a safe, welcoming space and building trust by supporting their decisions can have lasting, positive impacts on their lives and their recovery from trauma.
A trauma-informed approach begins with understanding the physical, social, and emotional impact of trauma on the individual as well as on the professionals who help them. When combined, key components of a trauma-informed approach actively seek to resist re-traumatization. Key triggers to re-traumatization include:
- Feeling a lack of control
- Experiencing unexpected change
- Feeling threatened or attacked
- Feeling vulnerable or frightened
- Feeling shame
You may unintentionally ostracize an individual by mirroring the behavior of a trafficker that disempowers that individual. When interacting with individuals who have experienced trafficking or who are at risk of trafficking, be patient, compassionate, and collaborative while empowering them to make choices that work best for them. In a person-centered approach, the individual’s wishes, safety, and well-being take priority in all matters and procedures. It's important to treat the individual as a partner in the service delivery process. In doing so, their chances of engaging meaningfully with services will increase, aiding their recovery.
Creating a safe environment and building rapport with individuals who have experienced trafficking are foundational elements of trauma-informed care. However, remember that your goal is not to obtain a disclosure about trafficking, but rather to obtain enough information to help you best respond to their needs. Understand that they may not be comfortable sharing information about their exploitation, so it is important to continue building rapport, creating a safe environment, and giving them the space and control to disclose if and when they are ready. There are several practical ways to enhance feelings of safety and security. View the Checklist for Creating a Safe Environment to learn more.
The Stages of Change Model developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente is another useful model for understanding how to provide support for individuals who have experienced trafficking. It illustrates the different stages individuals cycle through when dealing with trauma. While not everyone is ready for each stage, individuals may move through many or all stages at the same time.
At times, you may struggle with an individual's decisions, including returning to their trafficker, engaging in risky behaviors, and substance use as a coping mechanism/regulatory tool. You may not agree with the choices they make, but you need to respect their decisions. As you read each of the suggestions listed below, think about what you do to empower the individual. Do you or your colleagues attempt to control their approach to healing? Do you see them as “my victims” or “my survivors”? Or, do you acknowledge that they are individuals capable of self-determination?
- Let individuals know you will provide all the support you can to help them cope with the trauma.
- Avoid referring to or viewing individuals as “my victims” or “my survivors” or “our girls.”
- Take every opportunity to acknowledge that each person you work with is an individual capable of self-determination.
- Let individuals determine their own futures, even if you do not agree with them.
- Individuals should know they are free to not answer a particular question or even stop and resume services at a later date.
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