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Principles of Trauma-Informed Care that Can Help Human Trafficking Survivors

 



Regardless of the form of human trafficking, most survivors of this crime are left with physical and mental wounds from being exploited and abused, sometimes permanently. Helping the survivors relieve themselves from this pain is crucial to help them regain confidence and reintegrate into society. Yet, it has always been challenging, even for the most experienced caretaker.


So far, trauma-informed care has proven to be one of the more effective ways to achieve this goal. Six key principles are considered to help trafficking survivors recover, focusing on elements that could benefit them and help caretakers understand their needs:


  1. safety

  2. trustworthiness/transparency

  3. peer support

  4. collaboration

  5. empowerment

  6. humility/responsiveness


Safety


It is of utmost importance that the survivors need to feel safe for them to stay calm and open for interactions. This also ensures the safety of caretakers, as some survivors may have violent reactions if they feel threatened or unsafe. For human trafficking survivors, a safe space is where they cannot feel any imminent physical and psychological threats. A private and secure environment with limiting things that could trigger their trauma is important, and the caretaker needs to be patient and calm when dealing with survivors of human trafficking. Survivors will only feel relieved if they don’t feel they are in danger in the surrounding environment and feel that their caretaker is trustworthy.


Caretakers should also ensure that survivors are aware of the environment’s safety and the confidentiality of the process. Establishing a sense of ease and comfort can help survivors feel less intimidated and are more willing to cooperate.

 

Trustworthiness and Transparency


Trust is one of the most important factors in determining the success of trauma-informed care, yet it is also the most challenging factor to establish. Traumatized survivors tend to develop a sense of mistrust after being exploited by their traffickers, making it harder to keep them at ease. While there’s no solid method to remove this barrier from the get-go completely, caretakers should try to find mutual grounds to communicate with survivors through honesty, consistency, and openness. Stating your identity and intentions is one good way to achieve this, as there must be some transparency to create mutual trust. This transparency helps reduce the level of fear and alertness of survivors and opens paths for more communication.


Caretakers should also inform survivors about their rights, the purposes of the caretakers’ actions, and people with access to the treatment’s information. Never leave survivors with unanswered questions, and never overpromise. Survivors’ trauma will become complex and harder to deal with if they find themselves feeling deceived again.

Peer Support


Peer support is an effective part of trauma-informed care, offering survivors a sense of community and understanding. By connecting with others who have had similar experiences, survivors may feel less alone in their struggle against their traumatized experience. Support groups are another way to create peer support, providing a platform for past victims to share experiences, encouragement, and coping strategies.


Peer support, in theory, offers survivors the unity that they lost due to the mistrust implanted by their trauma. By interacting with other people who share similar experiences, survivors can develop a sense of understanding and sympathy for others while finding ways to help themselves overcome fear, thus creating a community where everyone can be helpful to one another. If done right, this can help aid the recovery of survivors and allow them to reintegrate into society at a faster rate.


Collaboration


Collaboration involves engaging survivors as active partners in their care. This method acknowledges the survivor's expertise in their own lives and emphasizes shared decision-making, which levels the field of knowledge for both parties. By working collaboratively, caretakers can design new methods to accommodate the unique needs and preferences of each survivor, which can hasten the process of trauma treatment.


Collaboration does not just stop between caretakers and survivors, however – there must be a thorough understanding between all parties involved with the survivor's treatment to ensure that the process is going as intended. With the consent of the survivors, information that may be helpful for the treatment can be shared between caretakers, medical experts, social services, and other professionals, in order to to help create a plan for recovery without the need for survivors to recount their experiences multiple times to different people.

Empowerment


Trauma robs individuals of their autonomy and makes them more vulnerable, so empowering practices is vital to restore it. By recognizing and reinforcing survivors' strengths and capabilities, caretakers can encourage them to become more confident about themselves, creating opportunities to recover from the fear that hinders their lives.


Resilience is key – a caretaker needs to show survivors their capabilities to aid with recovery and show survivors that they have their own will and right to overcome the past and make decisions for their future.


By providing knowledge and giving past victims access to resources that enhance self-sufficiency, caretakers can reinforce that mindset for survivors to make them feel less vulnerable. Additionally, encouraging survivors to set and pursue their personal goals can give them a purpose to strive for a better life.


Humility and Responsiveness


As a key principle for trauma-informed care, humility and responsiveness require caretakers to approach survivors with a respectful, non-judgmental attitude, and to be open to learning from survivors' experiences. In certain cases of human trafficking, victims are picked based on their demographic, be it racial, financial, or sexual background; a careless approach towards this topic may stir up unwanted biases and stereotypes that are connected to the survivors’ trauma.


A respectful approach with acknowledgment and consideration of the survivor’s circumstances, on the other hand, will help caretakers learn more about the target they are helping and what approach they should take for the specific target. Responsiveness is also essential, as caretakers may need to listen for feedback from survivors on their treatment preferences to improve. Willingness to help must be shown before a survivor can open up and allow others to assist with coping with their trauma.


What This Means to Survivors


Without proper intervention, human trafficking survivors will find it difficult to overcome their fear and reclaim their life again; in more severe cases, some victims can't find meaning in life due to their extensive history of trauma. The six principles of trauma-informed care are established to ensure a connection can be established with survivors, then gradually open ways for them to break through physical and mental obstacles that prevent them from integrating with society. As long as mutual understanding is established between the survivor and the caretaker, as well as the willingness to improve from both parties, treatment options are possible.


At Because Organization, we also believe that human trafficking victims should be supported in having the best chance to cope with their traumatic past and strive for a better future. If you were a victim of human trafficking looking for ways to regain control and reclaim your life, or if you are a healthcare professional willing to assist with our cause, our organization always welcomes you. There are also many ways you can help even if you are not involved in this process: for more ways that you can assist human trafficking survivors, visit our website at www.becauseorganization.org.

 

Source:

  • Elliott, D. E., et al. "Trauma-Informed or Trauma-Denied: Principles and Implementation of Trauma-Informed Services for Women." Journal of Community Psychology, vol. 33, no. 4, 2005, pp. 461-477.

  • General Awareness, Because Organization, 2023, https://www.becauseorg.com/generalawarenes

  • Hopper, Elizabeth K., et al. "Shelter from the Storm: Trauma-Informed Care in Homelessness Services Settings." The Open Health Services and Policy Journal, vol. 3, 2010, pp. 80-100.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). "Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services." Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 57, 2014.

  • “Trauma-informed Care.” Human Trafficking Collaborative, University of Michigan, 2023, https://humantrafficking.umich.edu/education/trauma informed care/#:~:text=A%20trauma%2Dinformed%20approach% 20is,sense%20of%20control%20and%20empowerment

  • Wilson, Betty L., and Tracy L. Butler. "Trauma-Informed Care of Human Trafficking Survivors: A Human Rights-Based Approach." Journal of Trauma Nursing, vol. 21, no. 1, 2014, pp. 28-36.

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