Most people know that we fight to stop sex trafficking before it even starts. We spend most of our time in classrooms, hanging with students, talking about the dangers and how to stay safe. What many people don’t realize is that we dive even deeper than that.
Yesterday we did presentations at a high school all day, talking to freshmen about the importance of understanding ourselves. We all have different stories, different life events. And we were all born unique, with different personalities, tendencies, and tolerances. We all know what has happened to us in life, but few of us understand how those events have shaped us into who we are today.
What does this have to do with sex trafficking?
Traffickers are using relationships to manipulate young people into trusting them. Oftentimes this includes a process in which the trafficker will intentionally discover the most important things about the person they want to exploit: their family history, the people who are closest to them, where they grew up, their likes/dislikes, and the most important trials/successes they have experienced. The trafficker then has plenty of collateral in which to use against his/her victim. (We dive into this more on our website.)
The difference between understanding what and how.
It is actually amazing at how much students open up to us in the classroom. They have shared experiences involving bullying, depression, suicide, family members in jail, abandonment, adoption, death, witnessing abuse, cutting, addiction. The list goes on.
They can tell us what has happened in their lives, but do they know how that has impacted them?
Does she understand how the bad relationship she has with her dad is what drives her desperation to date anyone who will have her?
Does he understand that his anger issues might have to do with watching his mom get hit by her boyfriend?
Does he see that his involvement with heavy drugs is his way of coping with his parents leaving him?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s)
It is estimated that 70,000 children in Arizona have experienced 5 or more traumatic experiences that can contribute to toxic stress, inhibit their brain development, and contribute to struggles as adults such as: drug abuse, medical complications, and suicide (Phoenix Children’s Hospital). Without community, and resources to help these kids build resiliency to traumatic events in their lives, they are prime targets for traffickers.
Our “Know Your Story” presentation focuses on building students’ self-awareness, teaching them what it looks like to deal with their issues in a healthy way, and encouraging them to reach out to healthy community/resources to help them through their troubles. Most kids only know how to cope with their issues (i.e. numbing on social media, zoning out with video games, partying, cutting, gossiping, etc.). We let them know there is a better way. They can work on dealing with what is going on in life. Seeking out a good friend group, asking for counseling, journaling, finding online communities going through the same thing.
We cannot escape bad things from happening in life, but we can choose how we are going to respond to them. Science is discovering that we are all predisposed to handle adversity the way that our parents did. Our bodies respond to traumatic experiences by releasing stress chemicals into our system. It triggers our fight/flight/freeze responses – our survival instincts. If a traumatic experience continues to happen or we find that everyday things take us back to a stressful time in our lives, we might begin to experience toxic stress.
Toxic stress is what makes people more prone to things like drug abuse, medical complications, and suicide. This is because when we experiences toxic stress over prolonged periods of time, it affects how our brains work. If we never combat that toxic stress with good coping skills, the changes being made to our brains have the potential to become genetic. That means that all our tendencies (good, bad, dangerous, or otherwise) can be passed down to our children.
This is about more than sex trafficking.
Understanding these dynamics gives students an edge against someone trying to manipulate them; using their natural tendencies against them for the purpose of exploitation. But it is about so much more than that. It is about building resiliency in our kids. It is about setting them up for the best lives possible. It is about protecting them from the increased heartache that comes from running away from our issues instead of fighting to deal with them head on.
When we pursue healing, not only can it break generational cycles of poor coping mechanisms, but it can create a new path for the generations to come.