With all I have to do, I am trying to make time to update everyone as I know that things are about to accelerate again and my time constraints will be even worse. I decided however that I am going to give a little commentary instead of updates and will go with more updates at a later date.
For this letter, I would like to talk about the realities of dealing with victims. As many that have heard my testimony know, to my shame, I have a victim of my own. Part of being a man is taking responsibility for your actions and I have to do that repeatedly. It is however firmly in my past, and that is where it will stay.
Now, with this in mind as you can imagine, I distance myself from the victim side of the rescue process, and rarely speak with the victims themselves. Of course as I am married and in ministry, I am never alone with a victim, or female of any type. Just makes good sense. I have met with victims post rescue with shelter staff and other accompanied visits, at their insistence, for thanks, etc. I am also on the radios and communications systems during many a rescue operation. And when our people have problems with placement, reluctance, etc. I am called for advice and relay a lot of info. I wanted to pass on some practical advice when dealing with potential survivors during this process. And I mean the realities. This will not make me popular. I am not here to be popular, I am here to be effective. I’m sorry I will not have your vote for president. Okay, here goes.
You need to set them up for success. Don’t lie or sugarcoat issues. Will they lie to you? Almost 100% of the time. Remember, they have been in captivity, they have been conditioned to this like breathing, don’t take it personal. It’s a survival instinct. My wife is one of the most amazing Contact Team Shield Team Agents I have seen even though she has her own ministry. She is a survivor and cuts through things amazingly quick. On a recent rescue when picking up a victim, as soon as the door on the vehicle slammed shut and she pulled away, I heard on the coms after she made sure our rescue was okay (she had been beaten at gunpoint the night before), “The second your butt hit that seat, you are no longer a victim, do you understand me? You are now officially a survivor and you are making your decisions for taking charge of your life. I know you have been through a lot, but I want to tell you that you are now in for the hardest fight of your life. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. You will be tempted to go back to the hell you are familiar with, than fight when it gets hard, but I am here to tell you that you have been through worse and survived. You are strong enough to win through this, and you will win through this. Do you understand me?”
This type of talk sets up the former victim for success. They need to be told when they are being taken to a safe shelter that there will be rules, and chores and most likely no free tickets to Disney. And they need to keep in fight mode. Because the call of their past can be overwhelming. I know you may not understand this, but it is what they know, what they have been conditioned to, and all of their self-worth has been purged from them. Their respect and dignity will have to be carefully steeped back into them over time, hopefully with counseling and prayer. They have no concept of the phrase, “You don’t deserve this.” I mean they know English, but the phrase is meaningless.
I know of a former worker in the anti-trafficking industry who opened her business offices to mattresses on the ground at night to house formerly rescued victims, because as usual, there were no places to house them otherwise. She gave them jobs and a means to earn an income. She is a survivor herself. Then, I watched as the anti-trafficking industry turned on her. You see, the girls were sneaking out at night, buying drugs and tricking to earn extra money. It is what they knew, and what they believed was all they were good for, even if they had just gotten out of it. I watched as other groups accused her of being a madam of victims, of running the girls herself as how could this happen at her place of business. Even though she had her own husband to go to at night, own house, no night staff and was just trying to let them stay somewhere other than the streets, so now she was responsible and in cahoots. Today, this woman has been effectively taken out of the fight and wouldn’t come near an anti-trafficking position if you beat her with a 5 iron.
Understand that the road to being an overcomer is a hard one. When we deal with them on the rescue side, they are still victims, but the victim mentality can be a very bad crutch. It can lead to feelings of entitlement, such as “You don’t know what I have been through, so someone owes me something.” It can lead to manipulation. “If I don’t get what I want, I am going to tell everyone that your organization sucks and doesn’t care about us victims after they are rescued.” It can lead to someone being a ward of the state off and on for a very long time, if not for the rest of their life. It is much easier to be taken care of, than doing what has to be done to take care of yourself. This means a former victim has to be taught to take care of their life as far as, if their case worker is overwhelmed, to do as much as possible to find out the avenues of job training and assistance open to them. It is easy to blame an organization or case worker and yes, some are better than others, but the fight is ultimately in care of the ones that we are fighting for.
A lot of former victims are instant experts. They have been through a lot and yes, they have an understanding that few do, unless you have been in their shoes. But let reason come into your understanding as well. If you have a cult victim, while their experiences may be similar to a forced child trafficking situation, it has more elements that have to be addressed. The same as someone with an American background of being exploited is not the go to expert for dealing with the nuances of victims of Asian organized crime, cultural differences, etc. Seek your guidance from many sources.
Many former victims want to immediately jump into the rescue process and public speaking. Remember that the need to take care of themselves first, before they are equipped to care for others.
It is not a sin to disagree with a former victim about some elements of aftercare or fighting trafficking. Show them the respect that they are a full person, do not need to be coddled or shown special treatment. I have seen former victims on both sides of issues such as statistic quoting, aftercare, public speaking and representation, etc. If you have a lot of experience, add it into your research and plan of action.
In the end, that is what we want, to transition them from Them… into Us. I have used the word them here deliberately because I absolutely hate the word. It delineates, classifies, and separates. I have heard it used too much. I don’t want to be a them. I am sure a former victim doesn’t either. I have been a they and a them before. Not as a former victim, but as a veteran, and even a homeless veteran. I didn’t like it very much.
Finally, we all need to use our brains, use our hearts and use some good common sense mixed with street smarts. Don’t set yourself up for law suits, never ever let any staff member be alone with a recent rescue. Document… a lot. Care for your rescues when they can’t or won’t care for themselves. Pray more than a lot. Take a break. Don’t give up. If you are involved in this fight, we need you. Please don’t get burnt out from actions of former victims, other organizations or even well intentioned destroyers. You are needed and if it seems as no one appreciates you, know you are mistaken, and I certainly appreciate you.