Understanding The Road To Healing For Trafficking Survivors

A child sexual abuse survivor shares her story. And an expert is conducting research he hopes will assist others working with trafficking survivors.

By Joy Diaz & Laura RiceSeptember 30, 2020 11:12 am, ,

Lisa Michelle is the founder and executive director of No Strings Attached in San Antonio. She is a survivor of child sex trafficking.

“Every time I tell my story, I go in with the mindset of I’m doing it for the one,” Michelle said. “I know that somebody is going to hear my voice. Somebody is going to identify with my story and they will raise their voice.”

Michelle said she was trafficked by a well-respected businessman who ran a funeral home in the city where she grew up.

“He had an apartment on top of that funeral home,” Michelle said. “He would have me and other girls and boys spend the night there on the weekends and he would drug us. And then he sexually exploited us through the use of child pornography.”

She said no one suspected because the man was “a grandfather-type figure.” She said her own family was going through a tumultuous time when she was abused but that the same thing could have happened if she had come, “from a perfect family.”

“One of the things that I like to get across is that my school teachers, the school nurse, there were so many people, the people [in the] ER and the doctors that came in contact with me and saw the bruises on me, saw that I was struggling in school and couldn’t make my grades for my behavior and me acting out,” Michelle said. “So when you see a child acting out that pain, but nobody’s really reaching in to that child and reaching in and finding out where their pain is and what’s going on with them and saying, ‘what happened to you?’”

She said anyone who thinks child sexual abuse is not happening in their neighborhood is “already behind.”

For survivors of sexual assault and sexual trafficking, the approaches to healing are many. Dr Jeff Newport teaches psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School and is the director of Psychiatric Services at The Refuge, a Central Texas organization that works towards the healing of child survivors of human trafficking.

He said that process towards healing is something experts are still learning a lot about – especially with survivors who experienced this trauma as a child.

“All of [a survivor’s] supports, social supports, family supports and the like are ripped away from them when they’re in these contexts,” Newport said. “And so it’s helping them to rebuild those components that are going to be necessary to a happy and well-adjusted adult life. And primarily, that focuses on a couple of different psychotherapies that we’re using.”

Newport said those psychotherapies are sometimes combined with medication.

He is working to help fill research gaps specifically when it comes to better supporting child survivors of human or sex trafficking.

“After about a year to 18 months, we’ll probably have a sufficient amount of data to begin analyzing and prepare for publication,” Newport said. “So I’m cautiously optimistic that within two years or so, we should be able to begin producing results that will guide others who are beginning to work in this field.”

If you suspect a case of human or sex trafficking, or are a survivor looking for resources, the National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1(888) 373-7888.

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