Author: Bailea Tayler
For survivors of sexual exploitation, trauma is not a theoretical subject full of possibilities. It is real life, happening in real-time, and is a lifelong journey. Trauma is woven into the very existence of sexual exploitation, for the people who have been exposed to this, it is critical to have public awareness about trauma. Trauma refers to an experience that exceeds an individual’s ability to cope (Exodus Road, 2021). Psychology Today writes, “events are traumatic to the degree that they undermine a person’s sense of safety in the world and create a sense that catastrophe could strike at any time.”
Trauma may present itself in different ways from person to person. For some, it may be a momentary or minor disruption to regular life, and for others it may be utterly debilitating. Many factors can shape the breadth of effect trauma has on an individual. At what age the traumatic experience happens is an important factor. For young, developing brains, trauma can stunt or overwhelm the developmental natural process (Arthur, et al. 2013). Memory is often affected, varying from memory loss to intense and sporadic flashbacks to the event. Often trauma can materialize in ways like depression, anxiety, nightmares, irritability, intrusive thoughts, emotional numbness, shame, disconnection, among other expressions.
Dysregulation is a common physiological adaption one can experience post-trauma. The body and mind can have trouble controlling or regulating emotional reactions or behaviours. In addition, a survivor’s physical health may be affected. They may find their bodies experiencing chronic pain, asthma, heart palpitations, headaches, musculoskeletal issues, and gastrointestinal problems (Arthur, et al. 2013).
The chronic stress that trauma induces on the body depletes its natural immune system and makes it more susceptible to autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue, or other illness.
Trauma is a common experience. Among all Canadians, 76% of Canadian adults report some form of trauma exposure in their lifetime, 9.2% meet the criteria for PTSD (Arthur, et al. 2013). Additionally, an estimated 50% of all Canadian women and 33% of Canadian men have survived at least one sexual or physical violence incidence (Arthur, et al. 2013).
A central practice and principle of Trauma-Informed Care is the opportunity for choice, collaboration, and connection (Arthur, et al. 2013). Incorporating trauma-informed principles should create a safe environment that fosters a sense of self-efficacy, self-determination, dignity, and personal control. It should be a space where power imbalances are equalized, and collaborative work flourishes between the survivor and the individual(s) supporting them. Ensuring this principle is woven into survivor spaces cultivates a reparative environment where healing is more accessible.
The focus of any trauma-informed service or care is to identify strengths and deepen the resiliency and coping skills of the individual. It should be characterized by emotional intelligence. Trauma-informed care incorporates person-centered approaches.
Acknowledging the unique differences each person experiences when healing from trauma and accepting the individual at all levels is prioritized. What is remarkable is the brains’ ability to build and condition resiliency. The brains’ structure is not permanent, and it can mold and change with the experiences we provide it. Resiliency is built through positive supports and experiences that tip the scale for the brain to bounce back from stress and negative experiences. These are essential to recovery from trauma and cushion future trauma that may occur. Trauma-informed care can help survivors of exploitation realize their core self. This process can be radical, restorative, and redemptive rather than simply eliminating the pain.
For Survivors of sexual exploitation, this process of resilience building is an ongoing practice of self-care and social support. To heal from the trauma of sexual exploitation requires patience, gentleness with oneself and one another, and consistent support. In addition, it is critical for survivors to have a trauma-aware environment to be safe to explore healing and recovery.
Next Step Ministries (NSM) is part of the TIC Collective and has a fully trauma-informed care team. With the support of a trauma-informed counsellor, survivors of sexual exploitation can receive wholehearted wrap-around care. NSM prioritizes emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically safe space for those exiting exploitation in our outreach, day program, sparrow houses, aftercare, and social enterprise. We have seen how Trauma-Informed care can transform survivor experiences with programming, housing, and after-care. In our experience, trauma-informed care principles and practices have enabled survivors to step into their redemptive stories and experience deep internal healing. If you’re looking for ways to learn more, check out Trauma Informed Care (ticcollective.ca).
Alberta Family Wellness. (2022). Resilience. Retrieved from Resilience Scale » Alberta Family Wellness Initiative
Arthur, E., Seymour, A., Dartnall, M., Beltgens, P., Poole, N., Smylie, D., North, N., & Schmidt, R. (May 2013). Trauma-Informed Practice Guide. BC Provincial Mental Health and Substance Use Planning Council. Retrieved from 2013_TIP-Guide.pdf (bccewh.bc.ca)
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (April 2019). Trauma Informed Care: The essentials of…series. Retrieved from Trauma-informed Care (The Essentials of … Series) (ccsa.ca)
Nikkel, Mary. (2 Aug, 2021). What is Trauma-Informed Care for Human Trafficking Survivor?. Exodus Road. Retrieved from What is trauma-informed care for human trafficking survivors? – The Exodus Road