In The Know
Corporal CS knew the look and the words. When she saw the young woman with the awkward blue wig leaning against the bus stop bench, she also knew she had to be careful not to create confusion or fear if she was to be successful trying to help. A 12-year veteran of a Southern California police vice division, Corporal CS approached the bench cautiously, and spoke calmly but with the authority of her uniform.
“Hey, what you doing out here” she asked.
“I’m just waiting for a friend, I’m never out here,” the girl said.
“Where do you live?”
“Over at the motel down there–”
“Oh. Who you live with? Your folks?”
“Yeah, just my folks,” she answered, and then looked stricken as she realized she’d given
up a clue to Corporal CS. Now both women knew that the one in the blue wig was being
prostituted, and whatever “friend” she was waiting for would turn out to be a trick.
This article is the second part of two addressing Trauma-Informed Victim Interviewing
(TIVI) with victims of violent and/or sexual crimes. The first part included an overview
of the development and some protocols for using TIVI. Part two will discuss how TIVI
can be used with victims of human sex trafficking, which involves long-term, repeated
and systemic abuse. There are two main differences between using TIVI in a case of a
singular traumatic event and using TIVI with a trafficking victim: first, the difficulty of
gaining the trust of the victim; and second, the difficulty of educating the victim about the
severity and reality of the situation in which they are caught.
In cases of human trafficking, the trauma becomes normalized and, therefore,
unrecognizable as trauma. What a trick purchases, in the vast majority of cases, is not the
consent of the prostituted, but the illusion of that consent. Implicit in the exchange of
money is the social ideal that this is not a gift and is not freely given. This removes the
sexual encounter from consent to rape in all cases of prostituted sex. When rape is daily,
and ongoing, repeated, and expected, with varying and unpredictable levels of violence,
the victim will become numb. As is typical in all domestic abuse cases, most individuals
who are abused within the context of being sold are in some degree of denial. They tend
to lie about or minimize the severity of the abuse and will usually protect the abuser at
their own cost. Isolation is key in creating the “bond” of trauma, tying the victim to the
trafficker, and distrust of all outsiders can be absolute.
Gaining the trust of such a person takes time and patience and a complete abandonment
of moral judgment. Each case is different, and each individual needs the respect of belief
and compassion. As part of gaining this trust, a TIVI user should employ and understand
that the jargon and vernacular slang of this subculture can change rapidly over time and
can also vary somewhat geographically.
In the story above, for example, the clue Corporal CS picked up was in her use of the
word “folks,” which the blue-wigged woman knew did not mean biological parents or
family. For those in the know, like this police officer, “folks” is part of the insider jargon,
and refers to the “family” a pimp builds from the people he traffics. There is an entire
vernacular language (what linguists call an argot) that TIVI users should be trained in and
familiar with in order to gain trust and connect with the people they would help.
Similarly, those inside the subculture of trafficking do not have the language of freedom,
and they must be educated as to their own situation. When I was still being trafficked, I
did not know the word “trafficked” and would not have recognized myself in it if I had.
It was only after a year of being away from my pimp that I heard the term and understood
the situation I had been in for what it was. Someone had to explain it to me.
Once after a rape, I was taken to the hospital that performed rape kits. As I left, I noticed
the woman at the front desk was alone, and I risked a conversation.
“Hey, um, if you ever, had, like, a prostitute, or sex worker come in here, and she just
didn;t get paid, what would you say–?”
The woman at the desk did not skip a beat, “I’d say she was raped!” she said
I was stunned. I mean, I thought I had been raped. I felt like I had been raped. And he
didn’t pay me, so…. But I wasn’t sure. Imagine being raped by a stranger, and honestly
being unsure it was rape. I was so used to rough and forced and brutal sexual encounters –
– six, 10, 20 times a day — that it took a woman with a desk to confirm what had
happened to me.
TIVI users have their work cut out for them. They start with a person who has been
beaten, bullied and traumatized into an unreality in which good is bad and night is day;
protectors are dangerous, and rapists are customers; pimps who beat them are their
“daddy” figures, and the Corporal CSs are out to capture, not free them.
However, the initial results of TIVI in the legal systems where it has been used are
hopeful beyond what might have been expected. To approach a victim as a victim, and
especially to treat a “prostitute”as a victim of a crime rather than the historically-
understood "perpetrator" is to open the possibility of a real paradigm shift.
It is the new abolition of the trade in human flesh.
Laurin Crosson is the founder and director of Rockstarr Org and opened the first safehouse in Utah. Laurin specializes in escape and is the Author of “Ride Out; Crisis Response And Extraction Of Human Trafficking Victims” Laurin educates and trains organizations, law enforcement, medical professionals, universities and ambassadors from every Continent. She is currently finishing up a book, enjoying her cats, and consulting to open another safehouse in the area. A special thanks to Zina Petersen for her editing and assistance with this blog.