Mental health workers must collaborate with trauma survivors

Written by Zoe Kessler and edited by Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

BOSTON, February 22, 2014 – My name is Zoe Kessler, and I am both a clinical social worker and a survivor of commercial sex exploitation as a minor. As a clinician and an advocate against all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), I have witnessed a gross misunderstanding for CSEC on the side of mental health professionals.

First of all, in order to provide effective mental health services to victims, mental health professionals must place value on “insider survivor knowledge.” Put simply, “insider survivor knowledge” is an understanding that can only be attained through personal experience. Without collaboration between survivors and service providers, the understanding for any victimization will be limited. This is because survivors can offer victim-centered insight into the potential effects from trauma, potential signs and symptoms of victimization, and those aftercare treatments that may be most appropriate and effective.

One common misunderstanding, not just among health professionals but among the general public, is that victims of CSEC have a “true choice” in whether or not they are commercially sexually exploited. This belief can affect the ways in which mental health professionals view survivors of CSEC, just as it once did for the way in which professionals viewed survivors of domestic violence. For example, if a girl (or boy) runs away and is “turned out” by a pimp or continues to live at home while simultaneously under the control of a pimp, this child is a victim of exploitation and manipulation.  Without “insider survivor knowledge,” professionals may place blame on those girls and boys. They might ask these victims: Why didn’t you ask for help?

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Survivors Offer Insight to Federal Anti-trafficking Efforts

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

WASHINGTON, February 15, 2014 – Last month, the White House administration announced a five-year “Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the Unites States…, a collaborative effort involving more than 15 agencies across the Federal Government.”

As stated in last week’s article, the Plan outlines intentions for each agency to integrate the experiences and voices of survivors into their initiatives. One anonymous survivor responded to this ambition as follows: “For a successful collaboration there must be an intentional disbursement of power between the government agencies that have traditionally held all the power of decision-making and the survivor groups that have held none.”

In response to the Plan, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families created a technical working group with the goal to enhance the health care system’s response to human trafficking. Among those invited to attend the first session were medical and health professionals, service providers, advocates, researchers, and survivors of human trafficking.

In this article, I’d like to include some perspectives from survivors who were unable to attend the meeting. Following are the questions I posed to survivors along with their answers:

What are the needs of human trafficking victims (both short and long-term) as it relates to healthcare providers?

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The Federal Government steps up anti-trafficking efforts

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

WASHINGTON, February 3, 2014 ─ In September 2012, President Barack Obama spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative and openly declared a U.S. initiative to address human trafficking.

In his speech, Obama called for a national action plan to better identify victims of human trafficking and address their aftercare needs. Last month, the White House administration announced a five-year “Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the Unites States, a collaborative effort involving more than 15 agencies across the Federal Government.” Co-chairs of the Plan include Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security.

In an introductory statement, the co-chairs acknowledged nationwide efforts to combat human trafficking and proposed that the Plan would strengthen “coordination, collaboration, and capacity across governmental and nongovernmental entities dedicated to providing support to the victims of human trafficking.” Further, the President’s Interagency Task Force (PITF) to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons recognized “that services must be provided in a manner that respects survivors and endeavors to integrate their experience and their voice.”

Read the article on the Communities Digital News website