A victim of sex trafficking bravely seeks help, but when she shows up to her appointment for services she is irritable, tense, and uncooperative with the law enforcement agent. The agent and the service provider are frustrated and confused at her behavior. But when the service provider approaches the victim in a caring, nonjudgmental way, she discovers the law enforcement agent reminds the victim of her trafficker.
This story demonstrates the importance of trauma-informed care. Had the service provider viewed the victim’s uncooperative attitude as a rejection of help, they might have given up and ceased providing services. Because the service provider understood the trauma-informed approach, they were instead able to care for the victim despite her initial negative response.
The core of trauma-informed care is asking the question “How can I create a situation in which the victim feels safe, makes his or her own choices, and feels understood?” For the victim in this example, it involved kindly asking her if she would prefer a female agent, allowing her to feel more in control of the situation.
What does trauma-informed care look like?
Trauma-informed care does not always look the same because not all trauma is the same.
Survivors of sex trafficking have different traumatic experiences–likely including physical and verbal abuse–that inflict invisible wounds. Trauma actually changes a person’s brain in three distinct ways, causing victims to exhibit irrational behaviors. First, it damages the hippocampus, which processes memories, causing symptoms like forgetfulness and flashbacks. Second, trauma damages the prefrontal cortex governing emotional responses, thereby inhibiting a person’s ability to regulate their emotions and behave rationally. Lastly, it damages the processing of emotions in the amygdala, which means a traumatized person may have an unpredictable emotional response; for instance, reacting with anger or sadness upon receiving a gift.
Trauma-informed services consider these changes to the brain when providing care or treatment. Care providers help survivors retrain their brain to better process the world around them. Trauma-informed care is crucial during all stages of the healing process to ensure survivors are not re-traumatized by experiences meant to help them.
Understanding survivors’ trauma helps people to have compassion and respond in a caring manner so the survivor does not feel isolated or rejected.
The Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center breaks down how trauma-informed care seeks to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in patients, families, and staff, integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices to avoid re-traumatization.
Trauma-informed care shifts the focus from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”
This shift in focus affirms the value of the individual and provides them with the space to share about their experiences.
Greenlight Operation understands the importance of trauma-informed care for survivors of sex trafficking and will integrate it into our Restoration Home. Upon arrival, survivors will be enrolled in Greenlight Operation’s restoration program providing individualized care, including trauma therapy, counseling, and courses that equip each woman to live an independent and sustainable lifestyle.
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