Wellspring Living: Interview with Mary Frances Bowley

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

Mary Frances Bowley

ATLANTA,  May 28, 2013 — Building working relationships with other advocates and organizations is important in any field of advocacy, including anti-human trafficking.  Listening to and learning from others increases personal growth and perspective.  Several advocates and organizations have shared their ideas, efforts, and achievements.  Readers are encouraged to reach out to interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.

This week’s featured advocate is Mary Frances Bowley, CEO and Founder of Wellspring Living in Atlanta, GA.  Mary is a founding member of the Governor’s Task Force for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) and was appointed to the Governor’s Commission on Domestic Violence in 2010. Recently, Mary has been asked to be a part of the White House Blue Campaign fighting the domestic issue of sex trafficking nationally.

Mary, what would you say is your personal mission statement?

To walk alongside survivors and those who care for survivors through a holistic, relationship-driven approach that meets each one’s individual needs.

How did you get involved with anti-human trafficking advocacy?  Did your faith play a role?

I began to work alongside many women 12 years ago seeking a way to help desperate women.  I didn’t realize at the time that the first girl we served was a trafficked victim.  Our heart was to bring hope to the hopeless in a professional and personal way.  Faith is a huge part of my life.  The way we serve is out of our faith and belief that there is HOPE in the midst of this horrific issue.  The way we serve is based on “sensitive faith.”  In other words, we serve everyone; through actions of faith, with few words, and with the understanding that faith is a highly personal choice.

If you are a speaker, on what specific topics do you speak?

I love to share stories about the amazing women and girls we’ve served and challenge everyone to do what they can.  That is the reason we wrote the book, The White Umbrella.

What sets you apart from other speakers on similar topics?

Personal experience and passion for the girls we have the opportunity to serve.  They have been in my home.  They are the most courageous young women I know.

Are you working on any current projects?

We recently released The White Umbrella, a book that shares a compassionate and informative case concerning sex trafficking.  It is a treatise that emphasizes that these are just girls.  This book shares the medical and emotional barriers as a result of trauma, and it challenges the reader to open his/her white umbrella.  We are presently using the book as a platform to encourage and equip communities for deeper engagement.

Please share any recent speaking events, awards, accomplishments, or experiences.

I had the opportunity to speak in DC at the White Umbrella Community Roundtable and Night of Worship.  We were also in Texas the week of May 12th.  We visited Austin, Dallas, and Tyler to support our partners whom we have been mentoring in order to build residential capacity.

What has been your greatest achievement or most meaningful moment while advocating against human trafficking, sexual exploitation, or a related human rights violation?

Seeing young women and girls move toward living life as it was meant to be: having careers, getting married, having children, and influencing others.

What message about human trafficking or human rights do you most want to communicate to the public? 

Every person should have the opportunity to grow up with the same opportunities that any other American child has.

How can the public help you with your plight?

Become a voice for the voiceless, do what you can with what you have where you are.

Have you published a book?

Yes, two. A League of Dangerous Women (Random House; Waterbrook/Multnomah 2007) chronicles the true stories of women who have found new lives after living through troubled ones.

The White Umbella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking was published in the fall of 2012.  It is a compassionate, comprehensive narrative that shares ways for the community to come alongside survivors of sex trafficking on the road to recovery.

What do you want the public to know about your organization?

Wellspring Living creates an umbrella of comprehensive care for exploited girls and women to journey from hurting, through healing, towards thriving.

Where do you hope to see your organization in the future?

Wellspring Living desires to partner with groups across the U.S. to create comprehensive care for exploited girls and women.

Trafficking, trauma & PTSD: Margaret Howard answers your questions

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

PTSD

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, May 20, 2013 ─ Many believe that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) exclusively affects war veterans. However, Licensed Master Social Worker Margaret Howard dispels this myth. In an interview earlier this month, Margaret explained how PTSD can affect survivors of human trafficking and sexual crimes. Since many are not familiar with the signs and symptoms of this disorder, Howard has agreed to continue the conversation with questions from survivors.

Can I have PTSD and not know it?  In other words, must a person be debilitated with terrifying flashbacks in order to be diagnosed with PTSD?

Yes, it is very possible to have PTSD and not know it. Flashbacks are only one possible feature of PTSD, and many people with PTSD do not have them. Usually when we think of flashbacks we think of something visual or auditory, like someone seeing or hearing sights and sounds that are of the original traumatizing event or events. However, traumatic re-experiencing probably more often looks or feels like one of these two things: hyperarousal or hypoarousal. Hyperarousal is an out-of-proportion emotional response to either something that is currently happening or an environmental cue associated with something that happened in the past. Hypoarousal is an emotional response that looks more like a person getting really quiet, spacing out, getting really tired or sleepy, or “going away,” which is dissociation.

How long can PTSD last, especially if you never receive treatment for it?

PTSD isn’t the kind of injury that heals itself. Like a broken bone, it needs to be “set,” treated, worked with by the injured person and a mental health professional who has specific training and expertise in working with trauma and the body. Traditional “talk therapy” can help, but the body also has to be engaged in the healing process, since, again, the injury is to the nervous system and the trauma is embedded in the body.

Sensorimotor psychotherapy as designed by Pat Ogden is one very good method. Trauma-informed yoga is also a very good healing modality, and has been shown in studies at Bessel Van der Kolk’s Justice Resource Institute to be even more effective than talk therapy. Psychotherapy that incorporates a mindfulness component, like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or even therapy that teaches mindfulness of body and mind can be good, too.

But if PTSD is not treated, it will persist. And every time a person has a re-experiencing episode — what we call “triggering” — the injury is driven deeper into the system, because it is happening again, as far as the body knows. It’s like hitting a bruise over and over. In order to stop the cycle of re-experiencing trauma, PTSD must be treated.

The good news comes with the word “neuroplasticity.” We now know for sure that the nervous system, including the brain and involuntary components, are “plastic,” or moldable.  In other words, they are changeable with inputs and experiences. Knowledge of specific changes in response to specific inputs and experiences is growing all the time because of our ability to image the brain with fMRI and other imaging technologies.

As a survivor of early childhood sexual abuse, I am sometimes overcome with a very “bad” feeling which I associate with this early abuse.  It was very strong in my teenage years and early 20s and comes much less frequently in my 30s.  Is this PTSD?

It’s hard to say. I would have to explore what “bad” means in this case. But it is interesting that you are identifying this as a feeling, not a thought, and that indicates that you are tuning into your body states, and that you are aware of those changes.  This awareness of body states is an important part of healing from trauma, as well as of recognizing when a new action is needed.  I think it’s important here to note that, in the dissociation/collapse end of the spectrum, there also can exist the feeling of shame. Trauma survivors do identify shame as a component, even when the accident or crime that caused the trauma is not sexual in nature. There is evidence that the sensation of shame is associated with hypoactivation states and, therefore, dorsal vagal nerve function.

As such, thinking “positive” thoughts and developing “positive” self image, though helpful, may not be all that is required to help heal.

One primary feature of traumatic injury is that the injured person’s involuntary nervous system, which can also be thought of as part of the unconscious mind, is very sensitive to environmental cues that in some way or another are related — directly or indirectly — to the traumatic event, or some part of the traumatic event.  These may be tiny things, like a smell, a song playing, a color or a feeling or a word, or telling the story again. The person may not even be consciously aware of the trigger or cue.

When a trigger or cue is picked up on, though, the body thinks it’s being attacked or held or hurt again, and it reacts as if the event is happening again, right now. Because this reaction is in the involuntary nervous system, and not in the person’s conscious thoughts, the body mobilizes against the “threat” in the same way it would if the trauma were really, truly happening again right now.

And here’s the most important part to understand- these aren’t just thoughts about the traumatic event, they are, in fact, a re-experiencing of the event. The person may “know” in their rational mind that it’s not happening, but the re-experiencing makes it feel real as if it is happening again. This can be very confusing to the injured person, especially because the injured person may not be consciously aware of the environmental cue or cues or triggers that caused the re-experiencing to kick in.

When would you recommend a survivor seek help for symptoms of PTSD?

According to current evidence, in order to avoid lasting traumatic injury, or PTSD, getting treatment as soon as possible is important. However, at any point good trauma treatment is going to help. For me, it was around 35 years before I got actual trauma treatment (though I’d had lots of therapy by then), and it still really helped.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  Everyone deserves to feel positive and healthy.  It’s important to spread awareness to others, especially children.

Be sure to follow Margaret Howard’s blog with the Huffington Post, or contact her via Twitter @MargaretAHoward.

If you are in need of immediate assistance, please contact a mental health specialist, your local crisis line, or your general practitioner.

Human Trafficking: Interview with Kat Rosenblatt

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

Kat Rosenblatt

CORAL SPRINGS, FL, May 13, 2013 – Building working relationships with other advocates and organizations is important in any field of advocacy, including anti-human trafficking.  Listening to and learning from others increases personal growth and perspective.  Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share their ideas, efforts, and achievements.  Readers are encouraged to reach out to interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.

This week’s featured survivor advocate is Katariina ‘Kat’ Rosenblatt, President & Founder of There Is H.O.P.E. For Me, Inc.

Kat, what would you say is your personal mission statement?

To help set the captives free from slavery. – Isaiah 61:1

How did you get involved with anti-human trafficking advocacy/speaking?

Overcoming experiences…myself [while] growing up here in South Florida: Once in a hotel on Miami Beach, once in my middle school in Miami, [once in] my apartment bldg.. and finally a false modeling scam. After getting out of an abusive marriage, I started sharing my testimony to girls within juvenile detention centers and public schools: the response was immediate! [Other survivors of abuse and sex trafficking] just started coming forward!

Please tell us about There is H.O.P.E. For Me.

We are a survivor-led and run organization looking to rescue and restore the lives of victims of abuse and human trafficking. Our efforts have been very successful, and we have a very high rate of success.  With constant love and support, the girls don’t return to the life; they want to move from survivor to thriver and overcome!

What is your organization’s mission statement?

Conduct talks to survivors and potential victims of abuse and commercial sexual exploitation with the aim of bringing out children who have been victims, who are in the process of being recruited, or who are in danger of recruitment. We aim to raise leaders who have been victims of domestic minor sex trafficking to go and share their stories nationwide [in order to reach] children who may have been affected by human trafficking and to deter future trafficking of American children.

Are you working on any current projects?

We [offer] rescue and restoration [services to] domestic minor victims of sex trafficking, and [we] are building up an army of survivors to turn the tables on human trafficking.  We hope to open our safe home soon to girls who have been commercially sexually exploited / trafficked and are [living] here in Broward County, Florida. We also offer a drop-in center [with] opportunities for tutoring, resume and skill building, Christian based one-on-one mentoring, [and a] life coaching program!

I personally am also finishing up my dissertation on the vulnerability factors associated with American survivors of DMST as well as a book [which] will be coming out shortly on my life story and our ministry.

Please share any recent or upcoming speaking events, awards, accomplishments, or experiences.

Please visit our website to see speaking engagements and trainings. We have recently trained ALL Miami Dade County Public School guidance counselors as well as Broward County pubic school counselors on what to look for within the public school system, taking real life examples of kids who we have helped. In addition, I do quarterly trainings to law enforcement from throughout the state of Florida on effective investigative techniques in combating human trafficking.

Did any organization or advocate play a significant role in your own healing / empowerment process?

Yes: Rev. Raúl Fernández-Calienes, Ph.DDr. iur Sigfried Wiessner, and Dr. iur Roza Pati with St. Thomas Law School; Marti Wibbels, M.S., L.M.H.C., P.A.; and Heath Evans Foundation. Also, Carmen Pino from the Department of Homeland Security who oversaw our South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force; [Carmen] helped give me courage and strength to keep going as well as those within law enforcement who are victim-centered and helping to make a difference.

What has been your greatest achievement or most meaningful moment while advocating against human trafficking?

Helping one of our girls come out of trafficking and being [called to] the very same police station that, just 24 years earlier, had [labeled] me a ‘juvenile delinquent’ and wouldn’t even take my statement, [let alone offer services.  I am now called] to [train and collaborate with] law enforcement!

What message about human trafficking do you most want to communicate to the public?

It is everywhere, be aware, get involved.

How can the public help you with your plight?

Support our efforts, pray, give, serve.

What message would you like to pass to other survivor advocates and speakers?

Keep it up! Don’t lose heart in well-doing and, in the right time, the bible says you will reap a harvest! I know, I am living proof of a redeemed life!

Are there any other accomplishments you would like to mention?  Have you published a book?

I am in my final dissertation stage for my PhD in Conflict Analysis & Resolution, and [I’m] also in the process of writing my memoirs that will hopefully come out soon!

How can people reach you or your organization for questions or more information?

Email: kat@ThereIsHopeForMe.org

Website: www.ThereIsHopeForMe.org

Interview with Greg Bucceroni: CSEC Survivor & Victim Advocate

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

Greg Bucceroni

PHILADELPHIA, PA, May 7, 2013 – Building working relationships with other advocates and organizations is important in any field of advocacy, including anti-human trafficking.  Listening to and learning from others increases personal growth and perspective.  Over the next few weeks, several advocates and organizations will share their ideas, efforts, and achievements.  Readers are encouraged to reach out to interviewees in order to learn more about their philosophies, goals, and strategies.

This week’s featured Crime Victim Advocate is personal friend and professional ally, Greg Bucceroni. Greg is a powerful advocate for boys and girls at risk for abuse and exploitation. His voice is vital in the fight against child sex trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

Greg, what would you say is your personal mission statement?

Advocating for victims of crime and at-risk youth.

How did you get involved with anti-human trafficking advocacy/speaking?

Between 1977 and 1980, I was a victim of child sex trafficking and child pornography.  Between 1980 and 1982, I worked as a mob associate with the Gambino crime family’s illegal pornography establishments in New York City, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia. In November 2011, after Jerry Sandusky’s case became public via the news media, I decided to break my silence of child sexual abuse and victimization via sex trafficking.  I publicly speak out regarding my victimization at the hands of Jerry Sandusky and other serial pedophiles, as well as mobsters who sexually exploited me and numerous other troubled kids.

Did any organization or advocate play a significant role in your healing / empowerment process?

Woman Organized Against Rape (WOAR) in Philadelphia, PA; advocate Jill Mair played a big role in my healing.

Are you working on any current projects?

I am currently [consulting for] law enforcement officials in addressing current and past child sex trafficking and child pornography concerns and investigations.  I also speak as an independent victim advocate, and I coordinate a small neighborhood watch program in Philadelphia.

Please share any recent speaking events, awards, accomplishments, or experiences.

I appeared on the Dr. Phil Show in 2012.  I also spoke at the WOAR 8th Annual “Take it All Back” Community Walk and Speak Out at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia on April 20th.  I have also been mentioned on various websites and in newspaper articles.

What has been your greatest achievement or most meaningful moment while advocating against human trafficking?

Changing the way child sexual abuse and / or child sex trafficking [cases] are investigated and coordinating with other officials in Philadelphia.

What message about human trafficking do you most want to communicate to the public?

There needs to be additional awareness for warning signs between parents, family members, and officials, including law enforcement, regarding at-risk youth victims.  Warning signs must include potential offenders and others that become criminal enablers of child sex trafficking and sex trafficking.

How can the public help you with your plight?

Raise awareness regarding child sexual abuse and sex trafficking. If you suspect something, say something.

What message would you like to pass to other survivor advocates and speakers?

Together in a united voice we can collectively reduce child sex trafficking through education and advocating.

Have you created an organization?

I coordinated a small neighborhood watch program in Philadelphia.

What is your organization’s mission statement?

Reduce crime, advocate for victims and at-risk youth, and support law enforcement.

How can people reach you or your organization for questions or more information?

Email: Cocot50@aol.com

Address: PO Box 22714, Philadelphia, PA 19110

Twitter: @GregBucceroni

Human Trafficking & PTSD: Is there a connection?

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

PTSD

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, May 1, 2013 ─ Many believe that PTSD is a disorder that exclusively affects war veterans; however, professionals like Licensed Master Social Worker, Margaret Howard, have learned that many survivors of human trafficking have undiagnosed PTSD symptoms.  Since many survivors aren’t familiar with the signs and symptoms of this disorder, Margaret Howard, who is also a blogger for the Huffington Post, has agreed to help dispel some of the dynamics associated with PTSD.

Margaret, what is PTSD? 

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is actually an injury to the nervous system. Some – but not all ─ advocates, researchers, and clinicians think PTSD should be classified as an injury, rather than a disorder, and renamed Post Traumatic Stress Injury, or PTSI. Traumatic injury to the nervous system occurs when a person’s natural “fight or flight” response is blocked or squelched by outside forces, such as being pinned down in a car accident or by an assailant in rape, kidnapping, or other violence. “Fight or flight” is a natural, protective response of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.  These involuntary components operate outside of conscious control and take over when one is caught in overwhelming circumstances. But here’s the thing: If that protective response of “fight or flight” is blocked, then the human organism will go to the next level of emergency response in order to survive. That level can involve freezing, dissociation, or collapse. Of course, going to the next level is good because survival is good. But that level of response comes with a price, and the price can be traumatic injury. That traumatic injury is what we call PTSD.

What are the signs and symptoms?

How this looks from an outside point of view can vary widely. Sometimes, it can look like someone getting angry, or very sad, or feeling like they are being attacked. Sometimes it can look like someone being very quiet, or spacing out, or going to sleep.

What are “triggers?”

“Triggers” are environmental factors or events that trip the involuntary nervous system into responding as if the original trauma is happening all over again. This word is often misused. To be “triggered” does not mean to just be sad, or angry, or to be encountering something [that feels uncomfortable]. To be triggered, in terms of trauma, means to be thrown back into a state of re-experiencing [feelings associated with the original trauma].  [W]ithin the nervous system, [this feels] as intense and real as the original event. As far as the nervous system is concerned, the event is happening again.

Does PTSD affect survivors of human trafficking, or survivors of any trauma, the same way it affects war veterans?

Yes, it does. As a matter of fact the comparison with what war veterans go through is very apt. There has been a lot of research about how PTSD affects veterans. But there has been less about how PTSD affects victims and survivors of sexual crimes, and little to none at all regarding victims and survivors of human trafficking. I’ve been looking at the literature around PTSD and combat, and I’m finding it very informative for thinking about, for instance, survivors of sex trafficking. Here are some commonalities:

Combat veterans experience trauma when there is an explosion, when their comrades are killed, and when they themselves are made (by the circumstances of their jobs) to kill others. There is some evidence that killing may be even more producing of post-traumatic effects than witnessing others killed. In combat, people can’t just leave. They can’t walk off and say, I quit. If they try to, they’ll be punished. Also, the experience goes on and on, over months or years. So the traumatic effects are compounded over and over again. In order to survive this, combatants have to shut off one part of themselves, just shut it down…maybe they shut down the part that knows it does not want to kill, and in turn, other parts that “mask” this feeling emerge, in order to survive the situation.

Many survivors of sex trafficking have been, to some degree or another (depending upon the details of their experiences), subjected to similar psycho-physiological circumstances. When sex trafficked, a person cannot just walk away. The “fight or flight” response is squelched over and over again. A person is compelled to do things that the person either knows are harmful to the self, or wrong. A person has to suppress the true self and go into a false, masked self in order to survive.

In recognition of May being Mental Health Awareness month, Margaret Howard has graciously agreed to answer additional questions related to PTSD and human trafficking in a follow-up article.  Please email your questions directly to Margaret via her blog with the Huffington Post, or directly to me via my website.  Some questions and answers will be posted in a follow-up article.

If you are in need of immediate assistance, please contact a mental health specialist or your general practitioner.