I have always found it inspiring to meet survivors. Their experiences, their challenges, their strength and their will to overcome inspire me to be a better person and to fight for justice in this world. That’s why here at Thorn we so strongly value the voices of survivors. Hearing from survivors provides a much needed breath of inspiration to keep us going as we work behind the scenes. Their insights keep us grounded in the reality and complexity of their experience so that the best interventions can be developed to defend children from sexual abuse.
Thorn launched the original domestic minor sex trafficking [DMST] Survivor Survey in 2014 to do just that – to ground our work in the reality of the survivor experience and to learn directly from them how technology played a role in their abuse. With the help of 14 survivor organizations, we had 115 responses to our initial survey.
The insight from the initial survey changed things. The output led us to develop the Spotlight application that has allowed law enforcement to find more victims faster. Spotlight has helped in the identification of 18,119 trafficking victims to date, including 5,791 children.
In 2016, we decided it was time to relaunch our DMST Survivor Survey to continue to monitor the trends in the use of technology in this heinous crime. With the help of 24 survivor organizations over the past year and a half, 260 survivors have graciously participated and allowed us to hear their stories.
Their insight is more powerful than ever. Yes – it allows us, along with our partners, to see the trends in technology in DMST to help guide future interventions. But more importantly, their stories lead us to a better understanding of the nuances inherent in the issue.
“It’s easy to get in and hard to get out.”
We learned that while technology certainly extends the reach and influence of traffickers over their victims, it’s power is coupled with uniquely human aspects of trafficking that cannot be ignored: the emotional and psychological tactics that are central to grooming and control, the childhood abuse and neglect rampant in the personal histories of the vast majority of victims, and the exploitation of vulnerabilities created by broken families and broken relationships.
“For a long time I did not realize that I was trafficked, I thought that because he gave me a choice to stay or go and I chose to stay, that it made it my fault and my responsibility.”
We also learned that trafficking doesn’t always look like we imagine. Yes, it’s often vulnerable teens being coerced into a terrible situation, but it’s also children as young as infants being trafficked by their fathers.
“My father was my abuser when I was 4 to 7. He sold me for his own gain to use drugs.”
These realities of the DMST experience are sobering and the complexity of the contributing factors can be overwhelming. That’s why it takes all of us first hearing their stories and then putting our best efforts forward as individuals, communities and organizations to tackle the challenge ahead. Without survivor input, our anti-trafficking movement risks wasting time and resources — and more importantly, endangering children trapped in dangerous environments. We are truly grateful to all of the organizations and survivors that participated, shared their stories and helped make this work possible.