A Place for Healing by Susan Brown
It’s been 26 years since I made the courageous move to leave my pimp, but I remember it like yesterday. I knew I had to find a way out, but I didn’t know who to call or where to go. I was in another state and knew no one. As I was walking down Sunset Boulevard, I looked up and saw a billboard for the runaway hotline. I called the number from the billboard; they connected me to a program for minors involved in prostitution; and we made an escape plan. Within a few minutes, they had a van pick me up off the track. My pimp thought I had another date; I did … a date with freedom.
This was just the beginning of a long healing process. My emotions as a 16-year-old girl where all over the place. I was free, but I loved him; he beat me, but he said he loved me. What if I had made the wrong choice to leave? What if he found me? He said if I left he would find me, and I would never be able to leave again … what did that really mean? I spent the day in the program day center and, at night, we went to various motels. Within two weeks, they had purchased me a plane ticket home, but I still had no place to go. There were no programs available for minors involved in prostitution, and I wasn’t welcome at my family’s home. I was still on the streets, only now alone, scared and pregnant. Once again, I had no place to go and no one to turn to, and I had begun to wish I would have never left. This is the unfortunate reality and circumstances of many victims who leave, or want to leave, and, even now, 26 years later, victims still have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Programs or homes for minor victims are still scarce, so leaving their pimp or “the life” is not an option.
There is a huge shortage of programs and homes for minor victims of sex-trafficking. In a recent search to find specialized homes, we found there are many in progress but few that are open. The challenge in working with minor victims verses adult victims is that any programs working with minors are investigated by the Department of Human Services or Child Protective Services and require the home meet requirements that, without funding, aren’t obtainable. Not only must you have the home, furniture, personal items, food, school materials and more, but a home also has to have the staff and a budget to pay them and all other expenses. Without homes available for minor victims, they end up in youth shelters, foster care or even jail. The following is a statement made by the Congressional Research Service -- this report was prepared for members of congress by a group of specialists in domestic security, social policy and immigration policy:
“Organizations in the United States that specialize in serving child victims of prostitution and other forms of sex trafficking collectively have limited housing and supportive services. Other facilities, such as runaway and homeless youth shelters, as well as foster care homes, do not appear to be adequate for meeting the needs of victims or keeping them secure from pimps/traffickers and other abusers … Child protective services may not be able to adequately respond to the needs of sex trafficking victims, if workers are not knowledgeable about human trafficking, the trafficking laws, or how to handle cases involving child victims. Child victims may also be arrested and placed in juvenile detention facilities because they are perceived to be responsible for prostitution (and other types of commercial sex acts) and/or because they often need protection from sex traffickers.” (Finklia, Fernandes-Alcantara, & Siskin, 2015)
Beyond the need for a place to go, these victims also need healing, wholeness, a sense of self-worth and life skills. Most victims have a survival mentality and also struggle with Stockholm syndrome, leaving them susceptible to being victimized again by their abuser. The care needed requires trained staff and a safe, structured environment to deal with the trauma and crisis each victim has endured.
As a minor, I reached out to organizations that worked with prostitutes and felt alone. The programs and groups focused on women who had been involved in prostitution for years, and most of them were recovering addicts. I needed to understand why I had the feelings I had and to renew my mind and thinking, but the services did not fit my needs. I was not on the streets exchanging sex for drugs; I was forced into a life that became normal to me, even though I knew it wasn’t right; I did not connect my body with my mind; my body was just a tool to survive, not a part of me. I struggled for years with a victim and survival mentality. I continued to manipulate and attract men that used and beat me, and, eventually, I ended up back out on the streets as a means to provide for my children. I believe that if there had been a place for me to receive the counseling, life skills and support I needed, I would not have wandered down that path a second time. Without proper programs and homes for victims to go to, this becomes the reality … most victims go back into “the life” or become stuck in the trauma, never healing.
My hope is to place urgency in the heart of readers. Seek out the organizations in your area; find out what they need to open their doors. Write to your state officials, and spread the word. When the doors open up, the homes fill up. The victims are many, but the homes are few.
Finklia, K., Fernandes-Alcantara, A. L., & Siskin, A. (2015, January 28). Sex Trafficking of Children in the United States: Overview and Issues for Congress. Retrieved from Congressional Research Service: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41878.pdf