Written by Kim Merrikin
on January 24, 2019
“To honor someone means to show them great respect or hold them in high esteem. Unlike the shame and degradation that gets heaped upon victims and survivors of sex trafficking, we send a different message: You are worthy of respect. Your voice matters. You survived for a reason. You deserve to be known. You deserve to be accepted. You deserve to be loved.”
This is an excerpt from our last blog Five Ways Love Heals Exploitation. Victims and survivors of the sex trade face astonishing levels of disrespect and dishonor in every aspect of their life, from the degradation of sex buyers, traffickers, and abusers, to the shame and stigma they experience in their day-to-day lives from people who look down on them and treat them with little compassion and humanity.
During this National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, help us change that experience for survivors. Here are five ways you can honor survivors in your advocacy for them.
Being in the sex trade, exiting, and living life outside of the sex trade is a hard-fought struggle. Commercial sexual exploitation is complex—far more complex than many realize. Survivors are often asked, “Why didn’t you leave?” but the manipulation, coercion, violence, poverty, and instability that many endure in the sex trade is extraordinarily difficult, and leaves scars—some physical, some mental, some emotional—that impact survivors deeply. Honoring the struggle means seeing the complexities of each individual’s story, and not reducing their survival skills or journey out of the sex trade to a simplistic rescue or one-time escape.
Victims and survivors of sex trafficking are incredibly strong. They have endured abuse and horrors that many of us cannot even imagine—yet they’ve survived it all—and the fact a person has remained alive shows their resounding strength, smarts, and resilience. It is a bold thing for a survivor to seek to leave the sex trade behind, as traffickers often threaten—and act on—harming them and their families. Honoring their strength means understanding that their very survival has required strength, intelligence, and a great deal of tenacity and not seeing them as unintelligent, less-thans or failures.
Survivors, having suffered and endured extreme injustices and exploitation, have incredible things to say—but often feel silenced. As they begin to see their own strength and resilience, they desire to speak out, but often find little opportunity to do so—and find their opportunities limited to telling their story, when they have much, much more to say. When it comes to their own experiences and needs—they know best. Honoring survivors’ voices means listening to what survivors have to say about their own past experiences, current circumstances, and hopes for the future, instead of telling them what we think is best for them—or speaking over them.
Every human has a unique story. For survivors, their stories often include abuse and pain, and while there are some overlapping themes between many survivor stories, each story is wholly unique. No two survivors endured identical experiences. Honoring a survivor’s story means, rather than hearing “survivor” and making assumptions about their past, or hearing pieces of their story and filling in the gaps based on other stories we’ve heard, we listen intently to their words as they share their distinct and unique story.
Living life in the sex trade, as well as exiting that life, is a journey—and often an uphill one through a thicket with no clear path. It often takes multiple attempts for a sex trafficking victim to leave the life for good. And once a survivor leaves the life, the work doesn’t stop there—successes will be intermingled with roadblocks, temporary setbacks, and failures. Honoring the journey means recognizing that exiting the sex trade is seldom a singular “rescue” event, but it is a persistent grinding toward a life without exploitation, and an ongoing journey down the path to freedom, safety, and hope.
As you raise your online voice to bring awareness to the issue of sex trafficking, stop and think about your captions, the articles, and images you share. Ask yourself with each post, “Does this honor survivors? Does this show the great respect and esteem that survivors deserve?”