Examples exist throughout the world of people who continue to thrive despite overwhelming obstacles. Where does their strength come from?
A term called Resilience has found its way into our vocabulary and I feel that no word is more fitting in describing survivors of human trafficking. Resilience is a dynamic process in which a person overcomes trauma and hardship to restore emotional equilibrium and respond to challenges in a positive way.
Resilience has an immense impact in the healing journey of survivors of human trafficking! Over 2.5 million people are currently reported as exploited victims of human trafficking every year (see UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2010). While human trafficking can affect people irrespective of race, socioeconomic status, background, nationality, age, or gender, it disproportionately impacts populations made vulnerable by poverty, economic inequality, racism, sexism and other related conditions. Already at a disadvantage, survivors then endure intense trauma, are placed in harsh/dangerous/isolated conditions and endure severe abuse. They are treated as slaves where sometimes their only chance at resilience is survival and adaptation. Who are we to blame the methods in which they do so? In this regard, I call you to reconsider what you deem to be resilience. Too often substance use, clothing choices or persona are misinterpreted as “inappropriate” or “bad” behaviour when really it can be a form of resilience. These actions and behaviours are not always chosen by the survivor but sometimes forced or necessary in order to survive. It can be a way of trying to evoke help from their environment or can be a way of coping with the pain and trauma endured on a daily basis. They endure more than we can possibly imagine. Yet, they are persevering in hopes of creating a better tomorrow. This hope and capacity for positive change, despite severe distress caused by trauma, is a testament to incredible strength and resilience!
Resilience can be relational and communal. This means that we play a part in it! So how can we as social workers, as nurses, as parents, and as churchgoers, build upon these strengths to facilitate healing and empowerment? How can we, Elora House, better equip women for a world in which they may have to face much adversity? How do we talk about resiliency among survivors without diminishing either the systemic issues at play or the great challenges that they continually face? How do encourage resiliency in the youth of our generation so as to prevent further adversity or enable them to positively cope with future adversity?
To begin, we can focus on resilience factors and collective impact.
Resilience factors are things like:
● Security: A person’s feelings of confidence and safety, feeling valued and supported by family, peers and community.
● Self-esteem: This is built in two ways – attributes they adopt, or those they believe others infer about them. If we give a favourable perception to a survivor by supporting them, they will feel connected and will identify with a social group. This, in turn, shapes their sense of self-worth.
● Knowledge: Education on signs of human trafficking and what resources we have access to.
● Social Support: Feeling they are not alone! It is paramount that we build a network that does not judge or criticize them but demonstrates unconditional acceptance. The 40 Developmental Assets (Research Institute, 2011) also highlights the importance of the above mentioned positive influences and their impact on empowerment.
● Sense of Belonging: Forming positive relationships and feeling they have a safe place where their needs are met. Sense of belonging has many positive benefits including fewer mental health problems, increased happiness, and more motivation to learn.
● Use of Strengths: Use of strengths as a factor of resiliency is made up of elements of personal power, self-efficacy, positive identity, positive values, constructive use of time, and commitment to learning. These elements sustain our well-being. They determine 3 important principles: “I have” (supports around the person), “I can” (person’s ability to solve problems and seek support from others when needed) and “I am” (person’s inner strengths and personal responsibilities).
● Physical Recreation and Arts Programming: Not only does physical activity and creative enrichment play a part in healthy well-being but it helps to develop coping mechanisms that can last a lifetime. It also gives them a chance to express themselves in a supportive environment.
● Mentorship: Some survivors of human trafficking have never had a positive adult influence in their life. In this regard, modeling positive attributes, socially acceptable behaviours and healthy coping mechanisms also teaches them how to incorporate these into their own life. It sometimes means more to see these put into action than just to hear it.
● Mindfulness: Teaching mindfulness techniques in order that they may better adjust and cope with common everyday stresses. They will understand how it can be used anywhere and easily incorporated into their busy lives.
● Therapy: Having survivor-led conversations. This means giving them a chance to share their story in their own words, at their own pace, with whom they choose to share it.
These are elements that Elora House facilitates in order that we may assist a survivor’s process of growth, empowerment, and resiliency. These interventions focus on engineering resilience, creating positive outcomes, boosting internal and external assets, and tailoring strengths that a person innately has (Masten, 2011). Each person is blessed with their unique talents and abilities. Those are resilience factors.
The second point calls for YOUR help in this mission. Collective impact is what binds us together as a community. It is what causes us to look out for the good, the health, and the well-being of others, not just ourselves. This nurtures a survivor’s support system and access to resources. They can feel they belong to a community that cares about their trauma and will show them grace in their healing journey. This in turn buffers the effects of the adversity they have endured. To start assisting your local community consider the following initiatives:
● Consider reading this news article titled “Human Trafficking Happens Here Too” published by Guelph Today. It draws attention to the human trafficking issue in Guelph and gave Luisa the opportunity to speak out on the work that Elora House does.
● Read this article on how and why human trafficking happens in areas like Guelph and how we can tackle the issue when agencies work together.
● Read this article about the forming of a police unit dedicated to fighting human trafficking made up of both Waterloo Region and Guelph constables.
● Luisa Krause, the founder of Elora House, is turning 50 this year and her goal is to raise $50,000 dollars for Elora House! She wants to make something good out of this half century and implores you to share this news with friends and family and donate if you can (whether it be $5, $50, $500 or whatever you can). You can find more information at www.elorahouse.com
● A fundraiser by author Amie Mae Main – 50% of proceeds from her book, Sharing Vol. 5, will be donated to Elora House. All copies of her book will be signed. You can find her on Facebook and order a copy of her book via Messenger.
● Kitchener has adopted a Resilience Project linked here. This approach focuses on community partnerships – working together as many moving parts towards one goal. It also further compiles research on how to reverse the effects of adverse childhood experiences by providing the above noted resiliency factors. The research is compiled here.
● Waterloo region’s fight to end human trafficking campaign, It Happens Here.
Masten, A. (2011) Resilience in children threatened by extreme adversity: Frameworks for research, practice, and translational synergy. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 493-506. doi:10.1017/S0954579411000198
Pasick, R. (2014) Finding strength in the face of adversity. Retrieved from http://robpasick.com/finding-strength-in-the-face-of-adversity/
Search Institute (2011). The 40 developmental assets.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2006), Trafficking in persons: Global patterns (Vienna).