When trafficked girls are found or when they find their way to escape, they can begin to live as a survivor! It is a scary yet glorious feeling to get away from the traffickers who have severely abused you in more ways than you can imagine. The song Amazing Grace takes on a whole new meaning to girls like us.
But these girls in prison are being victimized again. After being raped hundreds of times, they eventually find themselves convicted of a crime they committed under the duress of their trafficker. Most girls tell me that if they didn’t do what their trafficker said they feared their trafficker would kill them or severely hurt them. What would you do in that situation at the age of 13 or 14 years old? They believe the threats of violence because they have witnessed it done to other girls or they have already experienced it for themselves. Their brains are not developed enough to find a way out and the trauma that has delayed the brain development compared to their peer’s development. For them, there is no way out.
What does she do? She is locked up for 3, 4, or maybe 10 years for a crime of prostitution, assault, or robbery. Her family grows old without her. They celebrate birthdays and open presents at Christmas. Her friends go to football games, to prom, apply for college, and make memories they will always cherish. Do you know what she gets? She gets her innocence stolen from a man who made thousands of dollars selling her to the highest bidder. Her childhood is taken for a crime the trafficker planned. And I haven’t met a girl yet whose trafficker is in jail! The trafficker walks free to victimize more children.
I hope this appalls you. I hope that you are mad about what you are reading. Most days of the week these girls tell me of their nightmares they have each night of rapes and beatings. Some of them, when they try to sleep at night, see the eyes of those their trafficker killed. They tell me of their fear that their trafficker will hunt them down and kill them too. They are lonely and wanting to know if it is possible to really get out of this life and do it alive! They are eager for help and want to do good. They also know they are still trapped in the psychological manipulation their trafficker did to them. Many struggle to find a way out and are scared to death they won’t be able to say no when they are out in the free. It is like Stockholm Syndrome, but with trafficked girls, we call it a trauma bond. And that is why I am there with them in prison.
I’ll never forget when one of these precious girls said to me, “I would have never known I could get out if it wasn’t for Toni.” This is the start of breaking the bond that their trafficker has on them. And I am excited to tell you about the hope I see in their eyes during those two hours we get to spend together in the Survivor Sisters Leadership Program.
By Toni McKinley, LPC