How Do Pregnancy Help Organizations Respond to Human Trafficking?

by Melissa Heiland, Founder, Beautiful Feet InternationalHumanTrafficking

As a Christian, I am very concerned about the outrage of human trafficking. As a founder and director of multiple pregnancy help organizations, I am concerned about how we will respond to this issue in our centers. While I’m no expert, I have attended a number of conferences and seminars in an attempt to learn all I can about human trafficking in an effort to help our centers recognize victims and respond to their needs. Here are some basics I want to share with you in the hopes that we can help, as we are called to do, one girl at a time.

Traffickers can be anyone - male, female, even family members.
I had wrongly assumed that traffickers were strictly male. In fact, women are commonly used to recruit victims. They are typically women who themselves are being trafficked and part of their “job” is to recruit other victims, but family members traffic children too. In our centers in Costa Rica, we have rescued girls who were being trafficked by their own mothers.

Victims will typically protect their traffickers.
They are typically bonded to their traffickers by something called a “trauma bond” which is similar to Stockholm Syndrome. This means they will not easily tell others what is happening to them.

Victims typically will not self-identify.
They view their actions as their choice. Even though, in most cases, they are being beaten, raped, and abused in every imaginable way, they have been convinced they have just made bad choices and it is their own fault. They do not view themselves as victims. Again, this means that they will not readily report what is happening to them because they do not even understand it.

Signs to Look For:

*Visible signs of abuse
*Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
*Change in physical appearance
*Tattoo they are reluctant to explain (pimps will often brand victims)
*Appears exhausted
*Unexplained absences from home
*Multiple cell phones or constant attention to cell phone
*Refers to “daddy” (common name for pimp)
*Involved with male who is older, controlling
*History of multiple pregnancies
*Disconnected from family
*Lost interest in age-appropriate activities
*Always accompanied by someone at visits
*Withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out
*Brags about making or having lots of money
*Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes

Obviously, any or all of these signs do not necessarily mean a girl is being trafficked. They are, however, red flags that can help us to be alert and perhaps ask questions to help discern if our client needs specialized help.

If you suspect abuse, it is important to speak to the client privately. Most pregnancy centers already have policies in place to speak to clients privately without friends or family members in the room. It is important to recognize that victims of trafficking do not trust others easily, for obvious reasons. You can not expect them to open up about their circumstances during an initial visit. In our case, the girls had been coming for some time before they revealed the truth to their client advocate.

Question to Ask 
Because the victim, will not typically recognize herself as a victim of human trafficking, we must be careful how we ask her about her situation. Most victims of trafficking are seen by professionals during the time they are being trafficked, but state that no one ever asked them about their situation. Experts in this field recommend we pose this question: Have you ever had to exchange sex for anything of value (money, food, shelter, drugs, clothing, etc.)?

Principles for Working with Victims

*Safety- physical and psychological
* Trustworthiness and Transparency- making them aware of the process
*Collaboration and Mutuality- working with them
*Empowerment-strengths are recognized and validated, building new skills supported
*Voice and Choice- giving them meaningful choices

As I look at the principles necessary for working with victims, it is obvious to me that as pregnancy help organizations, we employ these principles on a regular basis. We strive to create an environment where our clients feel safe and respected. We strive to be trustworthy and transparent and to help her recognize her strengths. We want her to make healthy choices based on truth.

Spiritual Implications
All of humanity needs to be rescued. Jesus is the true Rescuer and Redeemer. He has ultimate power over all sin and all things are possible in Him. He desires to make all things new. When a client comes to know Christ as Savior, she is forever changed, regardless of her past. The Lord wants us to share His love and redemptive power with each of our clients. They need to know that Christ died for their sins and rose from the dead. We have the joy and privilege of letting them know that they have a Savior who loves them enough to die for them.

Number to Call
1-888-373-7888 is the National Human Trafficking Hotline. This is open 24/7 every day for reporting in the US.

Melissa Heiland, Founder, Beautiful Feet International 

Works Referenced:

1. Slaying the Giant, Shared Hope International
2. From Survivor to Thriver, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey
3. Holy Bible, English Standard Version

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