A couple of weeks ago, I accompanied two CAST survivors, Flor and Kanthi, to help facilitate them telling their stories and talking about labor trafficking at a training for first responders. I really believe that these conferences are extremely important, as they inform the people that will likely be the first – hence “first responder”- that will be interacting with victims of trafficking. If first responders can learn how to properly identify and interact with a victim of trafficking, we could save so many more people from exploitation and give them the dignity and services they deserve.

This conference specifically focused on how victims often won’t identify as victims or won’t seek help because they do not know they can. Runaway girl, which was founded by Carissa Phelps – a survivor of minor domestic sex trafficking, facilitated this training, provides trainings all over the US, and empowers victims of trafficking. Runaway girl facilitated this conference, and their specific goal was to show first responders how trauma bonding and “mind control” works in the case of human trafficking victims. A MISSEY representative spoke about the effect of improper news coverage of child victims of commercial sexual exploitation and another survivor spoke about how the media forms stereotypes and promotes images that make girls more vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking. Steven Hassan, a former cult member and expert on mind control, presented on how his model for helping victims get out of cults can also apply to trafficking victims. Flor and Kanthi also did an amazing job, and really emphasized how they had no idea who they could contact in the US, what their rights were, or even that they could escape and get help. They showed that although it may seem obvious that they were exploited and could get help, they truly believed no one would help them and that were not even victims in the US. This training really made an impact on the first responders present, and it really made an impact on me as well.

I was really impacted by this training, as I find the fact that someone’s mind can be totally turned around, manipulated, and wounded by their circumstances and others actions truly saddening. I think that healing one’s mind is so important, and that it is key to any type of recovery. Specifically for victims of trafficking, understanding that what they went through was not their fault can be life changing. It really hurts me to know that these victims aren’t completely free once they leave their traffickers – that their minds are often still trapped. Steven Hassan did an interview with Flor, one of the CAST survivors who presented, to show her a little bit how victims could better understand that they should not blame themselves for what happened to them. It was truly an honor for me to be able to sit in on the interview and talk a little bit about what CAST does. The video can be seen here: http://www.freedomofmind.com/Media/video.php?id=64. I really hope that this training, and others like it, can help responders and service providers help victims mentally recover.

 For me personally, facilitating the CAST aspect of the training alone was a remarkable experience, but the training also helped me see exactly what area I want to work in.  Getting to work with Carissa and other professionals in this area was such a remarkable experience. Also, helping the two CAST survivors in any way I could felt really rewarding. It reminded me that empowerment is key to solving the issue of human trafficking. We will never solve this issue if the survivors’ voices are not heard. Although the two CAST survivors – Flor and Kanthi – would have been incredibly powerful without me, I was happy to support them in any way I could. The conference also solidified my goal to provide better services, particularly mental health services, for victims of severe trauma, specifically human trafficking and slavery. I don’t know exactly what path I want to take to do this, but I know in my heart that it is what I am meant to do.

 Overall, this was a truly amazing experience.