“I would have never known I could get out of this if it wasn’t for Toni.”
Those words tore me up inside. It was a blessing to know that I have made a difference in her life, but it was a curse to know that she didn’t know she could get out. That is the reality of these girls. Most of them have given up trying to be free from the psychological chains they are bound in.
I’ll never forget the day I gave up. People always ask me, “What is the worst thing that happened to you?” Most would expect me to tell them of the times I was raped or the time I ran for my life, but there is a different time that was the worst for me. The worst thing that happened to me was the day I lost all hope that I would never be able to get out of this life. I remember everything about that moment. It was the most depressing, saddest, loneliness day of my life. It was the day I lost hope.
Over time I found my hope again and in January 2017 I began the Survivor Sisters Leadership Program. This group is led by survivors for survivors and it is making a difference! The goal of this group is to break the trauma bond with their trafficker.
“If you do not recognize the trauma bond that has taken place, you will continually go in and out of the life to your trafficker. To stop this from happening you have to break that bond (Soon to be published: “What Happened to Me?? Healing for Sex Trafficked Survivors”, McKinley 2018).
Most of these girls, including the people working with them, do not understand why they go back. When you believe that a person will give you security and affection you will do what is needed to be with them and you will protect them. Girl’s like I didn’t get that safety and security feeling growing up, which makes us all the more vulnerable to traffickers.
When I started meeting with these girls in prison I could see that bond begin to break little by little. I didn’t just teach them about what their experience looked like, but I gave them examples of how it looked in my life. Then I asked them to find examples of how it happened in their life. As soon as they understood this then the trauma bond began to break. As soon as they believed that it wasn’t their fault, that bond began to break some more. As soon as they believed that they weren’t the only ones who were tricked, that bond broke some more. Each and every experience of their life was combed over, talked about, cried about, laughed about, screamed about, and wrote about with a survivor like them. If you stick around long enough through the pain and trials then you will, one day, out of the blue, witness a girl start singing with joy about finding her new-found freedom.
That is what it looks like to be in prison with trafficked children. You see the broken who thought they lost all the pieces of themselves, then you see them begin to find those pieces as they pick them up a little at a time until they find them all. And when that chain is finally breaking you will know it, because each one will spontaneously rejoice in her own way.
Just last week I was privileged to witness that chain break for another girl. I’m going to give you a glimpse of what that looked like. We had some time at the end of our meeting, so I began to quiz the girls about definitions and concepts we had gone over quite some time ago. I wanted to know if it stuck in their heads. One of the questions I asked was, “How do you know when you are free?” And one of these children broke out in song. She sang,
“There is power in the name of Jesus, There is power in the name of Jesus, There is power in the name of Jesus, To break every chain, break every chain, break every chain, To break every chain, break every chain, break every chain…
There’s an army rising up, There’s an army rising up, There’s an army rising up, To break every chain, break every chain, break every chain, To break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.”
By the end of the song, every girl in that room was singing as loud as they could muster. I don’t know where they learned it, but they sang these words over and over. It was a beautiful sound to witness this girl express her freedom and that no one was going to take her back to the degenerating sense of nobodiness that trafficking did to her. She found all her pieces and she believes that she is somebody.
That is what I do every day, every week, and every month. I will do it until the day I die.
Now that this series is over I hope you do not forget about them. It is important for others to know that we have children sitting behind those bars who are innocent under duress, who have hopes and dreams to be somebody, who are crying themselves to sleep most nights wondering if anyone is thinking of them. Please pray for them to find comfort in their prison and for them to be set free.
By Toni McKinley, LPC