Sex Trafficking Prevention: A Trauma Informed Approach for Parents and Professionals

By: Savannah J. Sanders

“We live in a world where an abuser can spot a vulnerable child from a mile away—or more likely from across the room—but every other adult in their life, misses it.” Savannah shared that with me when I asked her for a quote to turn into a graphic for TAT’s social media. It resonated with our audience and with myself because of the frightening truth in her statement. How often do we miss the child crying out for help because it may be expressed through addiction, anti-social behaviors, rebellion, or such an unrelenting drive for perfection, we don’t get to the root cause of what is propelling them?

Sex Trafficking Prevention: A Trauma Informed Approach for Parents and Professionals helps lift the veil on some of these behaviors, dissecting them and giving parents and those working directly with youth, a guide for how to view them through a new lens. I found this book to be easy to read, and also generalized enough to not pigeon hole the reader’s view of a potential victim of exploitation and abuse. Too often we have a very narrow view of what a victim looks like, acts like, and how the consequences of trafficking will play out in their lives. Consequently, our approaches to serve those victims are prescriptive and do not take into account the uniqueness of each case.

This book gives insights to parents, teachers, counselors, and other service providers on why particular behaviors may be indicators of abuse, and how to ask questions and start conversations with a child or youth to get to the heart of the issue including the Adverse Childhood Experience Test (ACE test). It also talks about best practices for service providers who create programming for those coming out of a sex trafficking situation. “The most successful programs I have witnessed are low-barrier, choice-driven, supportive, client-centered and non-judgmental.” Pg. 122 A tall order, perhaps, but one that is essential to long-term success for those being served.

Savannah weaves her experiences with early childhood sexual abuse and adolescent sex trafficking and bouts with addiction and self-destructive behaviors throughout the book providing training points for those willing to learn. Never once does she insist that her experience is everyone’s, and, in fact, is clear throughout the book that there are no two stories alike, and we must be sensitive to that.

I truly appreciate how she notes the disconnect between how society views “victims” and what victims actually look like…those who are addicted and/or homeless, trading sex for survival needs, the rebellious teen being prostituted…these are your trafficking victims many times, not just the kidnapped youth being held in chains and sold in auctions. They all have a unique story, and our understanding of the issue must move past the sensationalized accounts championed in the media and into a deeper, more nuanced perspective.

The focus of this book on underlying causal factors is solid even if it makes dealing with how to serve those who are affected much more complicated. Overall, I highly recommend this book to those who desire to work with trafficking victims or sexual and physical abuse victims. It will hopefully help you begin spotting those vulnerable kids from across the room…but unlike the exploiter, when you reach them, your arms will embrace and protect and help them begin their path towards true and complete healing.

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