An article was recently posted that described the trafficking experience of a teenage girl in Ohio. The story is a must-read if you haven’t yet seen it, because it describes the full circle of a trafficking ring: vulnerabilities that make young women the focus of traffickers, a missed opportunity by the criminal justice system, the impacts of an uninformed community of how local sex trafficking works, and what life is like for a survivor on the other side of trauma, institutions, and a broken life foundation.
Alexis Martin has a long road of healing in front of her. She said, “I’m free from my trafficker. I’m free from prison. But I am still in a mental prison. And I’m trying to figure out if I am ever going to get out.”
This is a reflection of the hearts and minds of most women we work with at NH. We are beyond grateful that we see healing and progress take place through our programs, and I’m ever reminded that survivors are in a fight for their lives. Each day we have with the women at NH is a victory and one more day they are safe from exploitation.
The Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report of 2021 served as a stark reminder that our work is all the more urgent and crucial as we prepare to reengage with our communities post COVID-19. It states: “The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis with unprecedented repercussions for human rights and economic development globally, including in human trafficking. COVID-19 generated conditions that increased the number of people who experienced vulnerabilities to human trafficking and interrupted existing and planned anti-trafficking interventions.” It is reported that because of the pandemic, there was an increased lack of “adequate anti-trafficking responses around the world, victims went unidentified, survivors were underserved, and traffickers were not held accountable.”
Additionally, the depth and precision of care that service providers are able to offer survivors remains the most important factor in ensuring that women have the resources to heal from their traumatic experiences and not face obstacles that would lead to re-exploitation. The TIP report recommends two imperatives in order to best meet the needs of trafficking survivors: to incorporate trauma-informed practices into anti-trafficking work and to invite survivors into leadership positions within organizations. The report states that “Organizations must incorporate the voices of multiple survivors into their trauma-informed practices.”
In other words, stories like Alexis Martin remind us why we do what we do. Young women are not to be treated as property, as sexual profit-makers that meet the needs of a supply chain fueled by the unhealthy sexual desires of buyers. That we all agree on. Women and girls are not for sale. Additionally, the work on the other side of commercial sexual exploitation must be strategic. It must be trauma-informed. It must be survivor-influenced. And it must be gospel-centered. The work to heal from sexual trauma and the many other factors that lead to exploitation takes time. This ministry is long-suffering and requires perseverance, both on the part of the survivor and also on the service-provider. We make a commitment to each woman we serve that her healing is unique to her and that we are not a one-size-fits-all program. She is the best advocate for her own care and is an active agent in her own recovery.
The TIP report affirmed for me the good work that we are doing. We’ve hired survivor leaders in our organization and are deliberate to hear the ideas, the strategies, and the vision of other survivors (not just their stories of exploitation.) Our work is trauma-informed, which is an expensive commitment, but required nonetheless. And we are expanding. Groups in Elgin launched this summer, The Gathering Place is set to open for Day Programming in September, and we’re preparing to hire a NH representative to offer service in Chicago later this year.
Alexis Martin and the TIP report are fuel for us to keep moving forward. We want to offer the best services to the most women. You are a part of that. You are on a team that is offering solutions and providing a pathway to life-change and healing. Thank you for blessing the women we serve and for believing that each person we work with is deserving of a new start.
God bless you,