From victim to survivor to advocate
Labels. We use them all the time. They are helpful to provide us with an idea of what something is or is not . Unfortunately labels do not work well with people. This is true in the case of the children who have been rescued from human trafficking.
The most often used label I have heard is, victim.
Not just victims but survivors
As a person with a Western world mindset I arrived in Uganda with the expectation to see victims of human trafficking but I was wrong. What I saw in the faces of these children was hope, happiness and anticipation for the future. They did not look like “victims” of their circumstance. They were victims by literal definition of the dictionary but they did not dwell on it. I asked a teenage girl to describe herself and the first thing she said was, “I am strong.” What I saw were children. Just children.
Yet I also knew what they had experienced. This provided me with an opportunity to see them as they really are. These children are survivors. They endured hardships and pain and now they were changing their lives. I felt more comfortable using the term, “survivor” when working with them. And yet that term will be insufficient to describe what they can become with help and support.
Aftercare moves a child beyond surviving
The greatest gift aftercare services can provide is the opportunity for these survivors to redefine themselves on their own terms. To move beyond those labels and to reinvent themselves into something new.
In Africa the label of “sex slave” or “prostitute” is not erased. Agency leaders told me that survivors will live the remainder of their lives with the label. This subjects them to future revictimization. An example shared to me by one agency leader is that it is unsafe for survivors to apply for work. If an employer learned of their past they could subject that survivor to sexual abuse with no repercussions. When asked whether law enforcement would intervene it was reported that it could do nothing if all parties were adults. This helped me understand the need for Aftercare centers.
Aftercare centers focused on teaching survivors skills that improve their financial independence. Aftercare centers teach skills related to sewing, making beauty products or managing their own businesses. This in turn allows these survivors to become self sufficient and advocates of other survivors.
In Africa I learned of a girl who had been rescued years earlier. She was brought into the aftercare program where she received some education. She learned skills. She used those skills to begin a small business. The people in the aftercare program helped her establish it. She was successful with the initial business and opened an additional store. Now she has multiple stores and is fairly successful. As an adult, she reaches out to help other children who need help. This is just one example of a child, a survivor who eventually became an advocate for change in the world.
The greatest gift aftercare services can provide is the opportunity for survivors to redefine themselves on their own terms, to move beyond labels and to reinvent themselves into something new. This takes time, effort, work and patience. Traumatic experiences will continue to influence their perception of the world for the rest of their lives but it will inform rather than define who they become.
What does it take for a child to move beyond the trauma and become successful? It requires support, love and consistency from others. Aftercare services provide that for survivors of human trafficking and parents can provide that same thing to their own children.
Being cautious of labeling children applies to all parents
This lesson is applicable to parents and guardians everywhere. The children we interact with (regardless of where we are) deserve more than one label. In fact, we need to be cognizant that how we perceive our children is not permanent. They need our support, love and consistency. They are changing and growing. They are able to redefine themselves but they need help. We can provide that for them. Be aware that your perception of your child is just that, your perception. They can change. You can change. Be able to recognize their potential. Help them as they redefine themselves on their own terms. You will then see that your children will do more than just survive their problems, they will thrive and so will your relationship.
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Due to the sensitivity and safety of the children and agencies involved in human trafficking the blog header image is from a third party source.