Imagine you get in a horrible car wreck. Your leg is broken in three places, the bones slightly out of alignment. But the doctors tell you that it is all going to be ok. They are going to make sure you get the best care possible and everything you could possibly need to support your recovery. You get medication for the pain, physical therapy to keep those muscles nice and strong, occupational therapy to make sure you can still work, and even some disability payments to make sure you keep your housing. The only problem is that none of it really helps. Even though it’s the best care out there, a key piece was missing; no one ever went in deep to set those bones back in alignment.
It is easy to see in this situation the need for going deep into where it really hurts rather than just providing support services. However, when working with victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) we somehow overlook how important that need truly is – to go deep to where it really hurts. We can provide job training and services, we can provide housing, we can provide community, but unless the woman gets help with the psychological trauma too the rest of those services never reach their full potential.
Psychological trauma creates a break in the foundation of the person. Anything else placed on top of that foundation is going to falter because the foundation needs repair. These breaks in the foundation often take the form of difficulty trusting, maladaptive behaviors, and distorted views of healthy living. The more breaks in the foundation, the more repairs needed.
Typically women who find themselves in CSE have experienced one or multiple traumas leading up to the trauma of CSE; and the majority of women in CSE were victims of sexual abuse and/or exploitation as a child. By the time a woman has exited CSE and is getting help she has likely experienced multiple traumas, and has many breaks in her foundation that need repair. As with a building’s foundation, the best person to help with those repairs is someone trained to do so – in this case a counselor.
Counselors trained in trauma-informed care know just how to repair that foundation. They know how to provide a supportive environment for that deep healing to take place. And they know it is going to take time. Probably more time than we would like it to.
Maybe you’re not a counselor, but you still have the opportunity to support a woman exiting a life in CSE and aren’t quite sure how to start helping her repair her foundation. Here are 5 ways you can support a woman who is healing from psychological trauma:
1. Be patient with her. While we all want restoration to take place as quickly as possible, we also want it to stick. When we try to force our own timetables onto someone else’s recovery we are trying to control them. This only adds to the sense of powerlessness they already feel.
2. Think outside your comfort zone. Her experiences are likely very different than yours. What seems abnormal to you may be familiar to her. Be open to new ways of thinking about things and don’t immediately pass judgment when it doesn’t fit with your worldview.
3. Give grace. This is extremely important for these women as they have spent most of their lives disgraced and being taught that they deserve abuse, exploitation, and ridicule. Grace says the exact opposite. It says, “I don’t care what you do or don’t deserve or how people view you, I’m going to love you.”
4. Be in touch with your own story. The more we are in touch with our own stories of trauma, the more gracious and patient we will naturally be. Being in touch with our own stories also gives us something to offer as we can share how we’ve been broken and repaired.
5. Donate to help provide professional counseling services. Counseling can be expensive, and while many counselors are willing to work pro-bono with populations in need, they simply can’t afford to just work for free. Donating to provide professional counseling services means that the women can have consistent access to counseling services.
By Leah Lesesne, Clinical Care Coordinator for Serenity’s Steps