“T” sat at the opposite end of the cafe table. It had been several weeks since she was rescued from the oppressive hands of a violent trafficker. There was still an unsettled expression on her face. You could sense she wasn’t doing well. In the world of anti-trafficking there is a temptation to put a strong emphasis on rescuing victims from the hands of violent traffickers.If we can get a victim out of a trafficking situation everything else will fall into place. But rescue is not a one-time event. Rescue comes through the everyday presence of committed people who walk alongside victims of trafficking as they heal and find hope.
We don’t walk ahead pulling them into the life we think they should live. Instead, we invest in providing a safe environment where they can walk empowered and free into a new future—one that is unfolding as we speak. It’s a dynamic reality. In this space a vast depth of work must be done in partnership with each survivor. As advocates, rescuers, and coaches we are there for the singular purpose of helping them travel toward their dreams.
When “T” was rescued she was fortunate enough to have the unconditional support of her family. Despite this support the weight of the shame that manifested in her thoughts told a story that no matter how ideal the situation she is rescued to there are challenges. As she sat there sharing about her dreams for her future she couldn’t help but be impacted by a nagging question that dominated her thoughts. Slowly, with brutal honesty, she asked, “Who will ever want me?”
James Pond, a good friend and mentor in my life, once said, “It’s not what we rescue someone from, but what we rescue them to that matters most.”
With so much emphasis put on rescue it is easy to forget that for years after rescue a survivor is walking through life trying to make sense of it all and trying to figure out what life looks like in the context of this new reality. Living in a reality that you are no longer a victim, but free, can be daunting if not an entirely new concept. When rescue takes place the inevitable question, “What now?” follows.
At first it’s practical:
“How will I afford food?”
“How will I get a job?”
“How will I get to work?”
“What about criminal charges on my record?”
“I am not documented in this country.”
“I have no friends and family nearby that I can go to.”
These questions and uncertainties compounded with factors of psychological trauma, health issues, language barriers, and educational barriers causes an understandable paralysis. Without the right kind of care and support they may never move passed the paralysis. For a survivor to move forward it takes more than good intentions and love. And how we think of love can cause us to think we just need to say nice things to a survivor.
Love is not confined to a word. Love is not confined to a feeling. Love is an action wrapped in the visceral certainty that we exist to create shalom in the world. Providing care and support requires this level of love. It requires us to obtain the expertise and sensitivity to survivors’ unique needs. It is essential that someone feel accepted. And it is essential that there be a clear understanding how to care for someone that has faced deep levels of trauma.
And that core question, “Who will ever want me?” speaks to the depth of injury done to someone’s identity and self-worth. It’s a wound to the soul. How we interact with those we serve must be modeled closely after how Jesus interacted with people. As we walk with someone toward healing there must be the removal of any agenda.
Jesus’ mission was one of justice. When we talk about justice we are talking about how things ought to be. Jesus walked with profound grace and wisdom during his mission to bring justice to the earth. How we walk with trafficking survivors and everyone in our lives should be in the pursuit of establishing a society that is based on how things ought to be.
And people ought to be free. Entirely.
This kind of space enables survivors to move from questioning their value to the realization that they are unequivocally wanted. This takes the daily work of providing freedom in a structured environment where there are expectations and unconditional care. It requires a space where we carry no agenda. Those moments are not about us. They are about the person sitting in front of us.
Rescue is essential to healing, but healing is the essential element of an effective rescue.
Remember it’s not what we rescue someone from, but what we rescue them to that matters the most.
“T” got an answer to her question and it’s my hope that every survivor of human trafficking that wrestles with identity will have the support and care around them that will provide an undeniably voluminous answer to that question. As a community of people that are engaged in the global movement to end slavery we can play an active part in shaping a culture that dispels any uncertainty about someone’s value and openly welcomes each survivor not as a trafficking victim but as an incredible human being.
Joshua Bailey is President & CEO of The Gray Haven, a non-profit dedicated to serving victims of human trafficking and eradicating slavery from the communities in which they work. You can follow Joshua on twitter at @TuoBailey and @TheGrayHaven.