We are always very proud of the women we serve. It takes a lot of courage to leave exploitation behind and go forward in their lives. In many cases, our survivor sisters have to rebuild their lives completely from scratch, which can mean facing an array of challenges, including completing their high school education in adult life, participating in intensive trauma therapy, repairing their credit and banking history, or substance abuse recovery, among many other challenges. We love celebrating every milestone that is met, because by the time we come to each milestone, we have witnessed countless struggles that our sisters have overcome.
But recovery is not a straight line. It has its ups and downs, and often when our sisters progress in their recovery from exploitation, more challenges will surface, and sometimes, old challenges will come back to haunt them. Through all their triumphs, our women still face some setbacks, and without actively working to heal each facet of their trauma, they can take steps backwards before they realize it.
Some of the common struggles survivors face on an ongoing basis are:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is characterized by a cluster of psychological symptoms which follow a traumatic event that interrupt a person’s daily life. Almost every single sex trafficking survivor reports to have symptoms of PTSD. PTSD can continue to interrupt a survivor’s life even after she has gone through recovery if the elevated arousal she experiences causes her to have angry outbursts and aggression, sleep deprivation, intrusive flashbacks, or dissociation (which can cause them to have a warped sense of reality.) This can negatively affect work life, school life, and family life, if not properly monitored. PTSD is a diagnosis that can be treated but not cured, so survivors often must live with trauma symptoms for the rest of their lives.
Substance Abuse Relapse
It breaks our hearts to watch the women we serve relapse after living clean and sober for years in our community. Relapses can be triggered by highly stressful events, highly emotional events, or simply by being in a certain area or around certain people, especially if those people are recovering addicts or actively using drugs or drinking. At times when survivors face enormous pressure or emotional pain, they may revert to unhealthy coping habits like substance abuse to numb what they are feeling. And when the women we serve reintegrate with society, they are exposed to many temptations, and what may seem trivial to someone who has not been exploited, may have the potential to completely damage all the progress a survivor has made in their sobriety.
While we always pray for justice for the women who testify against their traffickers, it is not uncommon for them to receive backlash once they do testify. Some of the women who have taken their abusers to court have been threatened, even to the point of making them want to relocate for their own safety. Testifying against a trafficker is not an easy process. It is lengthy, emotionally draining, and can increase trauma symptoms such as anxiety and hypervigilance.
Many of the women we serve are mothers of multiple children, and because of their trauma, they often have open cases with child protection agencies. While we pray for the unification of families, these cases are ongoing and survivor mothers have to put in a lot of work to rebuild their relationship with their children. This can be stressful and triggering to anyone, especially someone who is recovering from trauma.
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Because we understand all these setbacks that survivors face on an ongoing basis, and more, we don’t expect them to be absolutely perfect and never make mistakes, but we do all we can to encourage them to be resilient and grow under all circumstances, and we provide all the support we have available to help them in their journey, whether they have recently entered our residential program or they have graduated from their program and are living independently. We know the value of their potential, though sometimes it’s hard for them to see it in the midsts of their struggles.
When our community reaches out to the women we serve, by providing job opportunities, by volunteering their time, by donating food or necessities to our resource center, among many other ways everyone can help, our women are in a better position to grow in their lives. Though we all can’t be on the frontlines of their healing when things get tough for survivors, any source of active support from our followers causes a ripple effect that reaches all the women we serve, no matter what phase of healing they are in.
Recovery from sexual exploitation is tough, so please continue to pray for all of the women we serve who are struggling. Pray for their healing, for their endurance, and pray for each one of their stories to become success stories.
written by Amanda Moon Ellevis