BOSTON, April 5, 2014 — In my recently-released book, Walking Prey, I explain that exposure to healthy and empowered survivors is vital in aftercare programs, especially for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking. In the chapter on Intermediate and Long-term Aftercare, I point out that, “One way to do this is via a Survivor Mentor model like the one created by My Life My Choice (MLMC).”
MLMC of the Justice Resource Institute, located in Boston, Massachusetts, pairs survivor mentors with exploited girls to encourage their use of existing services — including those outside of MLMC’s scope — to support their exit from the commercial sex industry, or to break their bonds with their traffickers. Exploited girls are identified through a variety of sources, including law enforcement, child protective services, medical providers, and clergy.
MLMC’s Survivor Mentor program seeks to stabilize a girl’s situation shortly after identification, thereby decreasing the likelihood that she will run away during this time. It then provides support, motivation, and hope to the young woman consistently over time.
Each mentor spends a minimum of one to two hours per week face-to-face with each girl. When appropriate, MLMC survivor mentors take their mentees into parts of the community where they have been denied access during their period of exploitation: movies, restaurants, cultural resources, etc. These outings help the girls bond with their mentors as they get to experience ordinary adolescent activities, thereby building their confidence and social skills.
Mentors help girls build the intangible skills that they need to be successful, healthy adults: self-worth, a positive self-image, the ability to trust, and the tools to know how and where to seek help when they need it.
“Survivors are uniquely able to decrease a victim’s sense of isolation and are able to support her as she builds a new life for herself,” says MLMC cofounder and director, Lisa Goldblatt Grace. “Survivors are ideally suited to provide key mentoring services to exploited adolescent girls. Victims of exploitation, and girls who are disproportionately vulnerable to exploitation, live with complex histories of trauma that make finding safety and stability outside ‘the Life’ difficult. Our survivor-led model connects girls in crisis to an unwavering support system and a relationship that heals instead of hurts as they work toward finding a path to recovery.”
“As leaders in the field of anti-exploitation work, we understand that this journey takes time,” continues Goldblatt Grace. “MLMC’s Survivor Mentoring program never closes cases. As long as girls are willing to work with us, they never ‘age out’ of our program; and we travel to see girls wherever they need us: in foster homes, hospitals, treatment facilities, and in their communities. Many mentoring relationships continue for years as they grow, deepen, and change to fit what a young woman needs to grow into a healthy adult.”
In a recent article, “Mental health workers must collaborate with trauma survivors,” author and clinical social worker Zoe Kessler highlights a young survivor, Tanee, who was exploited as a young teenager and then rejected by a mental health worker:
“At age 14, Tanee was placed in a group home in the Boston area after experiencing abuse and neglect in childhood. Later, Tanee ran away from the group home while under the influence and control of a pimp. This pimp beat, raped, and forced Tanee to ‘turn’ 10-15 ‘tricks’ a night. He isolated her and deprived her of sleep, food, and water. On one particularly brutal day, Tanee reached out to her former group home for help. She hadn’t eaten in three days and was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.
“A mental health worker responded; however, this professional immediately passed judgment onto Tanee’s situation. As she got into the car, Tanee was met with negative comments about her ‘hooking behavior.’ Two days later, Tanee left the group home and returned to the pimp. Three years later, at age 17 and still under the pimp’s control, Tanee was picked up by an ambulance. She had been gang-raped and beaten so badly that she almost died.”
Tanee was then connected with MLMC’s services, where she received compassion and understanding in place of judgment. Tanee finally began to thrive, and she went on to become a mentor and group facilitator at MLMC.
I highly recommend a mentorship model similar to that of MLMC for any program working with adult or child victims of sex trafficking, or any other type of exploitation. To learn more about MLMC and their other services, including their 10-week Exploitation Prevention Curriculum for girls, please visit www.FightingExploitation.org. For additional resources for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation, please read Walking Prey, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.