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?