Over the past few months, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of human trafficking operations throughout Mississippi. We’re grateful for the hard work our law enforcement partners are putting into the planning and execution of these operations. However, our law enforcement partners and the community struggle with the response from some victims upon recovery. It is assumed that a victim would embrace their “rescue,” and it’s difficult to understand why he/she wouldn’t run directly to enroll in a victim services program. Here are some real truths about why that sometimes isn’t the case:
1. It’s not the first time this person has heard, “We are here to help you.”
Unfortunately, in many cases, victims have been taken into state custody as children and been through the foster care system. Since that is such a difficult experience for many, victims are quick to assume the same system can’t be trusted to help them again. Due to this negative experience, advocates must work to build trust with the victim, so they can begin to believe that true help is available.
2. Due to the skepticism these same victims feel, most times they hang back to “test the waters.”
They wait to see if advocates are truly going to engage with them on their terms. It is the common practice of CVP advocates to make contact with recovered victims “after the smoke clears.” That contact could be to offer medical care or therapy, or maybe even a warm coat. Many times, that constant contact and availability proves to victims that we care, and we’re prepared to meet them where they are. Sometimes, it takes weeks, even months, before a victim feels comfortable engaging with the Tower’s long-term program for recovery. We never give up on them. In fact, in some cases, it takes years for a victim to decide to accept services.
3. All victim services programs aren’t prepared to offer evidence-based trauma-informed care, and victims are able to recognize and identify what they need.
A short-term stay in an emergency shelter may only endanger the victim after he/she goes back on the streets. The trafficker may assume that the victim has cooperated with law enforcement, and she may be punished, beaten, even killed. It is the duty of victim services providers to recognize and respect that a victim knows better than we do about how to stay safe. In most cases, he/she has been managing his/her situation and danger for many years.
4. Drug addiction and detox are also major detriments to recovery.
Most victims self-medicate to manage trauma on the streets, and many traffickers benefit from addiction as it’s a method of control. Compounding the addiction issue is the lack of treatment centers in Mississippi, along with the cost of effective treatment. With the ever-growing availability of fentanyl and other deadly drugs, recovery is a painful struggle that takes time and costs money. Navigating that reality is one that many victims just can’t manage.
5. Victims also struggle with failed mental health treatment.
Reflecting on the #1 above, most victims who enter mental health services through the child welfare system have received a mental health diagnosis and are medicated for that diagnosis at an early age. Short-term and ineffective treatment doesn’t address the trauma they’ve suffered and is compounded by the inability to afford medication. If and when they wind up on the street, many either go without their medication or turn to street drugs.
With all this said, the struggle to engage with victims upon recovery takes a highly-trained team and a well-funded menu of services for victims. We’re making huge strides, but much work is left to be done. As advocates, we are beyond grateful for all the law enforcement warriors who have added the certified investigator training to their skillset, and we trust that we will continue to recover more victims.