My job with Love146 is to provide “Rapid Response.” That means that when a youth is a suspected or confirmed victim of human trafficking, I meet with this youth to provide education and safety information. I have the privilege of working with the most resilient children you could ever meet. I get one meeting, one chance to make a connection and build trust. Following this meeting I provide recommendations to providers to ensure the best possible services for the youth. Some of these youth go on to receive Love146’s long-term Survivor Care services.
I have three goals when I meet with them: First, I provide education about exploitation (putting a name to what they may have experienced). Second, I talk about strategies to be safe. Third, I offer information about where and how to get help.
Providing education about exploitation is powerful — helping a youth understand how a perpetrator uses manipulation, tricks, and force to take advantage. I talk about how easy it is to be taken advantage of. How everyone has things they need and everyone has things they struggle with – and how someone could use these things to build trust for the sole purpose of exploitation.
What I have found is that this Rapid Response meeting may be the first time that this child is told: “It is not OK that someone treated you this way.” It may be the first time they hear: “It is not your fault.” Or that: “You are valuable and important.”
When I provide a safe, trusting space for youth, this amazing thing happens. I am allowed in, and they begin to tell their story. This story can be heartbreaking and horrific. But telling this story is the first step in healing. When a youth takes that very tentative step of allowing themselves to believe, even just for a moment, that maybe they are not to blame, and maybe they are worth more, and they begin to tell their story perhaps for the first time ever, it is imperative that they know that this space, this moment, this time, is theirs. Nothing they say will be used to hurt them or shared without their permission as they begin to unfold the layers and layers of overwhelming and confusing trauma they experienced.
A youth once told me “I used to think I was invisible. But you see me.”
I am hoping you will see them too and see the importance of providing protection for victims of child trafficking and exploitation.