Although our team at Alabaster Jar Project recognizes that all demographics of women are susceptible to exploitation, we know that some social factors can contribute to a person’s vulnerability to being exploited. Poverty and homelessness can put one into a vulnerable state, as can mental illness or substance abuse issues; all of which can make a person a prime target for trafficking predators, but the first social factor one could ever experience which would lead to exploitation abuse later in life is child abuse.
You might be thinking: How can something that happened so long ago, before a person’s brain was even fully developed, lead to a lifestyle in exploitation?
Child sexual abuse teaches a child behaviors similar to what women learn once they’re in a lifestyle of exploitation. It teaches them secrecy. It teaches them that sexual activities can measure their self-worth. It teaches them that they can’t trust anyone. It also teaches them unhealthy coping strategies that mimic PTSD behaviors and responses, including dissociating from reality with flashbacks of traumatic experiences, panic attacks, and extreme denial. By the time a victim of child abuse is grown, and has lived with all of these negative beliefs and behaviors, entering exploitation isn’t such a foreign concept compared to what they’ve already survived. When we understand the mental journey an abused child experiences, it is not surprising that sexually abused children are twenty eight times as likely to be arrested for prostitution in adult life.
There are a few things we can do to intervene early in a child’s life so that they don’t complete this cycle and become exploited. When counseling a juvenile delinquent, we must remember that many of the main reasons female youths are arrested, including substance abuse, truancy, and running away, are also symptoms of abuse. Instead of offering harsh punishments to these young women, we can offer them resources to support services so they can get a head start on their healing.
In addition, it is helpful to learn the warning signs of abuse. Some warning signs that a child is experiencing sexual abuse are more obvious than others, but any abrupt change in a child’s moods, appetite, fear responses, and especially all three, may indicate that they are experiencing some form of abuse. View a more complete list of warning signs here.
It is not uncommon that the women we serve have experienced trauma long before they were ever exploited, so Alabaster Jar Project provides trauma-informed support services to stop this cycle of abuse. We do this by operating a long term residential program for survivors of trafficking where women can live in a therapeutic environment for up to two years, and by providing a drop in resource center where survivors can obtain basic needs, such as toiletries and food items, and where they can gain access to a variety of support services. We are also working towards providing vocational opportunities and training so that graduates of our residential program can have jobs that will sustain their independent lifestyles.
As if the trauma of sexual exploitation wasn’t difficult enough to survive, it usually happens as a response to many other traumas they have experienced in their early life. Please continue to keep the women we serve and their healing in your prayers.
For more valuable information on how we all can fight trafficking at any stage in the cycle of exploitation and to support us financially, please visit our website. Thank you for your support!
Written by Amanda Moon Ellevis