How important are mental health services to survivors of human trafficking?
I believe they are vital. In my opinion, mental health services are the most important services needed after “coming out of darkness into the light,” so to speak.
I have read and heard several different psychologists and mental health providers explain that surviving human trafficking is much like surviving war, and much like war, the aftershocks and effects of trafficking can linger in our minds for years to come … sometimes a lifetime.
Our bodies heal. Some wounds may leave scars that can be daily reminders of our days enslaved, beaten, tortured and sold. The bruises, cuts, broken bones, and burns -- even the branding marks -- heal with time. Our minds do not heal as quickly or like our bodies do. Yet, most of the time, they are treated as if they are one and the same.
Every trafficking story is different, just as every survivor is different. We all cope and heal differently, in different ways and in different time frames. We are individuals after all. We may have experienced similar trauma but that doesn’t necessarily mean we will cope with that trauma in the same way.
Some survivors may not have even realized they were trafficked until much later in life. I know that’s what happened to me. I had huge parts of my life missing. For example, ages 16 -18 were just a blank for me, and I never understood it meant anything. Then one day, as I walked by the television and was triggered (before I knew they were triggers) by something from a documentary about human trafficking, it all came flooding back! The days, weeks and months that followed, I faced all the horrific memories that came back to me, and I finally had all the pieces of the puzzle and could see exactly what happened to me during those years.
Living, after surviving trafficking, without the support and help needed by qualified professionals can seem almost impossible. Whether you remember what you endured or not, it still happened to you, and the life we lead after we “escape” our traffickers shows up in all areas and aspects of our lives and how we end up living them. We leave a long trail of abusive relationships, drug addiction, alcoholism, self-harming, self-hatred, feeling ashamed and unworthy of any good, destroying ourselves or any happiness that may come into our lives. We do all these things and more to ourselves and, for many like me, we have no understanding or may not even be conscious of what we are doing or why.
For me, my mind blocked out the hell and torment of man after man after man mounting me, starting at the tender age of six years old and still in kindergarten. My mind also blocked out the severe and sometimes inhumane abuse I endured as a very young child starting before the age of two. Our minds are remarkable, beautiful and brilliant. They often create a coping mechanism to help us endure all the trauma we’re experiencing, especially the severe trauma attached to human trafficking.
Without such a coping mechanism, I might not be alive today or could very well have ended up in an institution someplace.
The fact that I’m alive and sane today is thanks to a disorder I developed for my own survival as a very young girl. I remember thinking it was amazing that I could perform “magic tricks” … making myself disappear when trauma occurred … and I called this disorder “my magic” for a long time growing up.
These types of disorders are called dissociative disorders. I believe a large percentage of survivors have some sort of dissociative disorder, but they can be difficult to diagnosis or are often misdiagnosed, so often people are unable to get a correct diagnosis for a number of years. Also people may be afraid to tell anyone they feel the way they do for fear of being judged or labeled as crazy; I know for years I was afraid I was crazy, and I sure didn’t want anyone knowing it if I was.
These types of disorders can be very isolating -- add the shame and guilt already associated with trafficking -- and we survivors spend a lot of time isolating and being alone out of shame.
In January 2013, I was diagnosed with D.I.D. -- dissociative identity disorder. It is a very misunderstood disorder and most people are misled by the media’s sensationalizing of it. This makes it a very private disorder. Once the denial stage had passed, and I did some reading and research about D.I.D., I was able to process it all. This is when I finally stopped looking at D.I.D as a curse or a label that read “beware of crazy” and started realizing that this precious disorder was a gift and a blessing. I realized just how remarkable and incredible it was that I could endure so many horrific things in my childhood and teen years and, not only survive, but break the cycle and become more, despite my past. I spent years of my life soul searching, trying to heal and even trying to face my demons head on, but I tried to do it alone.
We survivors are strong; we know how to survive at all costs. However, even strong capable people need help overcoming the evil and inhumane act that is human trafficking and the trauma it inflicts. We don’t have to be strong all the time -- we are allowed to have our moments. It took me a long time, and I have to remind myself that I’m still fragile and human, allowed to make mistakes and allowed to be flawed.
It wasn’t until the age of 41, in my quest for healing, that I received the mental health services I desperately needed all those years ago. Though I am receiving them now and am grateful beyond words for the help I am finally getting (for it has changed my life and been my saving grace), I still can’t help but wonder and picture my life as a whole if I had gotten this help I desperately needed 25 years ago.
Who would I be now?
Would I have graduated high school? Gone to college?
Would I have become addicted for three years to the same drug my traffickers used to keep me controlled and compliant?
Would I have been in abusive relationships?
Would I have married two men that were abusive, controlling and acted as if they owned me?
Would I be divorced and going through my second divorce now?
I can’t regret any parts of my life, for they have made me who I am today … someone I am beginning to like and accept for the first time in my life. I still have my future ahead of me, and now that I have received these priceless services, I feel like the sky is the limit. I was deemed “damaged goods” my whole life. Damaged, broken maybe … but I am becoming whole. I am healing and recovering from some horrific things that can happen in this world and never should, but I feel like I will be coming out of all of this on the other side … feeling worthy, good enough and maybe even beautiful.
For now I will keep working hard on trying to make changes in the injustices I see in this world. I will continue standing against and speaking up about child abuse and the exploitation of innocent children.
I will continue my fight against trafficking and continue telling my story.
Without the therapy I have been receiving through survivor services, I would not be where I am in this moment. I would have stayed probably another 11 years with a man who promised to lay down his anger but never did. In fact I would not be able to tell my story, speak my truth or do the advocacy work I do if these services were not provided for me. So here I am … strong ... standing on solid ground for the first time in my whole life. No longer owned, no longer living in fear, no longer kept in a box with psychological locks. My marriage was a relationship built on ownership and control. I broke free 26 years ago from my traffickers. I break free now from a man I loved unconditionally.
Today I take my life back.
No human being has the right to own, buy, sell or trade another human being, for it is inhumane.
Selina is a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in the United States as well as a survivor of severe child abuse and domestic violence. She endured horrific abuse and, sometimes, inhumane conditions and torture as child. She was sold for 10 years of her life and lived through 21 years of domestic violence. Rather than let her past define her, she uses all she endured and survived as a catalyst for good and helping others … giving them hope that anything is possible. She is a devoted, single mother of two girls -- her miracles -- as she had been told at 19 she would never have children due to the horrible abuse she endured. Today, she lives in the country on a small farm. You can usually find her on the front-porch swing, playing guitar and singing to her children, caring for her gardens and animals, building furniture, painting, doing photography, or writing. Selina’s first book, Sold at Six, comes out this September, and her second book, Made in the USA, comes out in spring of 2016. Selina is an advocate for survivors of human trafficking and has been doing outreach work for the past two years. She is a volunteer for N.E.S.T, bringing human trafficking education to local schools, 6th grade-high school. She trains and educates local law enforcement on human trafficking and is the founder of M.A.T. (Musicians Against Trafficking), a group of local and non-local musicians that do “campaigns for change to raise money for survivor services.” She is also on the advisory board for the Trafficking in America Task Force and a member of the National Survivor Network.