From Victim To Survivor

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A few of us from Catalyst just got back from the 7th Annual Cook Country Human Trafficking Task Force Conference. It was beyond amazing.

The Cook County Human Trafficking Task Forceis made up of law enforcement and social and legal service agencies that join together to work on human trafficking cases. Every year, they hold a conference to collaborate with anyone else in similar fields that are taking part in the fight against human trafficking.

We learned so much at this conference from expert attorneys, law enforcement, and social service providers.

In one instance, we learned about the neurobiology of trauma and its impact on the brain. In another instance, we learned about investigative cues to identify potential victims of human trafficking. In another session, we listened to a case study on the investigation, dismantlement, and prosecution of a family sex trafficking business.

Over a two day period, we soaked in all this information and so much more.

In many ways, we were already familiar with a lot of the information that was presented. But in other ways, it deepened our understanding and emboldened our passion to fight against human trafficking.

There are so many topics that I could discuss with you, but today I want to draw attention to one simple principle we learned at the conference. It has to do with how you and I refer to people who have survived human trafficking.

We often refer to people who were victims of human trafficking as just that--victims. And this is not inherently wrong. In fact, in the Criminal Justice System, a person legally needs to be recognized as a victim of a crime in order to bring a case against the person that committed the crime against them. Besides, especially in cases of extreme violence, victims need to know that what was done to them was not okay. They were victims.

But that’s just the key—they were victims. Once they move on into a process of healing and creating a new life for themselves, why would we refer to them by something that defines their past? Why not look at the present and towards their future and realize that they are no longer victims. Now, they aresurvivors.

It’s funny how the slightest change in language can significantly change things. But after all, “Life [is] in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

Unless we have experienced similar physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, we cannot begin to imagine the immensely tragic pain and cruelty that people who have survived human trafficking have experienced.

So if we can help them and respect them in even the smallest way, we must do it. Let us be conscious of how we refer to these courageous people. Let us be conscious of the identity we place on them.

Undoubtedly, the experience of a person who has survived human trafficking does play a part in affecting their identity.

But it does not make up their identity.

It was something that was done to them, not who they are.

If we can help remind them of their identity, by all means, we should strive to do so. After all, "Life [is] in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21).

Amy Horine