It was an amazing year of firsts for us at Set Free Refuge, Inc! In August, Skip and I celebrated our first full year of operation. We hired a new administrative assistant and continue to partner with agencies in our community to help survivors of human trafficking. The vision for Set Free Refuge, Inc has always been to start a safe house in the community to support survivors of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. This continues to be our ultimate goal; however, we are expanding our vision and services to include supporting survivors of sexual abuse.
Recently, I met a mother whose daughter had experienced a very traumatic sexual assault which turned her and her family’s life upside down. The mother searched for help locally but found nothing. More specifically, the mother was looking for counseling services for survivors of sexual abuse. At one intake with a counselor, the mother said she could visibly see the counselor become unsettled and almost shaky when asking her daughter questions about the sexual assault. While the mother was sharing her story, a pit in my stomach began to form. Their story was heart-wrenching. As a mother, I couldn’t imagine going through something like that with my daughter and having no one to turn to for help.
While I was advocating for women in New Mexico, I met with many women and young girls who did not feel comfortable talking with their therapists about their experience with sexual abuse. It always puzzled me that a survivor felt more comfortable going to a rape crisis center for counseling services even though they were seeing a regular therapist. The experience of sexual assault, rape, incest, or sex trafficking can be so shameful and traumatic that it’s easier to compartmentalize it and pretend it happened to another part of oneself. In some instances, the mind actually hides the abuse from you! It truly amazes me what the mind does to protect itself.
This is why we are expanding our services to include survivors of sexual abuse. In my mind, sex trafficking is commercialized sexual abuse. Although, the circumstances of the sexual assault may change. The attack on the body and the mind remains the same. One person (perpetrator, pimp, abuser, or john) takes the power of another and destroys a victim’s/survivor’s hope, their self-esteem, and steals their personal power.
Providing a safe place to tell your story or to share your hidden secret is what we plan to do with the expansion of our individual counseling services. In many cases, sex trafficking survivors do not realize they are victims of trafficking. I know that may sound strange, but survivors are often trafficked by someone close to them like a family member or a boyfriend and the trafficking instances become normalized. Also, the definition of human trafficking has evolved over the past few years to include acts of prostitution in underage minors.
We see the opportunity to help women and girls who may be survivors of sex trafficking and not even know it. It is better to cast a wide net than to limit our services to one grouping of sexual abuse survivors. Over the next few months, we will be out in the community doing outreach and education. If you are interested in having someone speak to your group about sex trafficking and what is happening in your local area to combat it please reach out to us. You can contact our office at 850-463-5191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcie Landreth, MSW, RCSWI
Set Free Refuge, Inc.