As a woman of Eastern European descent, I can speak of the prevalence of sex trafficking throughout the world. According to a September 2017 report from the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are a reported 4.8 million sex trafficking victims worldwide, and while we’ve grown accustomed to believing it only happens in distant, faraway places, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that trafficking has actually increased from 35.7% from 2016-2017 in the United States. Media exposure and celebrity advocacy remains light, with the exception of Ashton Kutcher’s advocacy, so the issue is still relatively unknown to many. But social workers are addressing the issue with therapies like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, private practices, and shelters throughout the world. And considering the unique way DBT addresses PTSD symptoms which many sex-trafficking victims share, and the effectiveness of shelters catering to the issue, I do believe social workers have the power to improve the issue.
Since more and more shelters are catering to the needs of sex-trafficking victims, I do believe social workers can continue addressing the issue by opening up more of these shelters. Many victims cannot escape traffickers for reasons such as poverty, no support system, and/or fear of death if they go against their traffickers. Women are usually sold in by people they know & trust, many times by family members who sell them for alcohol, drugs or money. Many others don’t even ask for help because they could not imagine anyone ever being altruistic enough to take them out of their misery. For those who do escape, however, they can find refuge in shelters specifically catering to victims’ needs. Reaching Out Romania is one such program which provides these types of shelters to victims. The founder, Iana Matei, has saved over 470 victims of sex-trafficking; many times, the victims are referred by the police, Child Protection Departments, and NGO’s from Destination Countries. However, when necessary victims are often rescued off the street from their pimps. Girls are offered psychological, medical and legal assistance. Furthermore, some facilities are even targeting women who are most vulnerable to trafficking as we’ve also seen with Stella’s House in Alabama. These houses are havens for orphan women who can no longer stay in state-run facilities and are prime targets for sex traffickers. Hundreds have been spared that life of misery and I anticipate many more victims will be spared as more and more social workers create and work in these types of shelters.
Since most sex trafficking victims suffer with PTSD from the extreme physical, sexual, and emotional violence they’ve endured according to a study at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College (Oram, 2015), I believe social workers can better address this issue by administering this therapy, which would be particularly effective in the specialized ‘sex-trafficking’ shelters that I mentioned previously. Dialetical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), created by Marsha Lineham, has been used to treat individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The therapy combines CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) with Buddhist Principles and has four components: Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment; Distress Tolerance helps clients tolerate pain in stressful situations; Interpersonal Effectiveness helps clients improve relationships, teaching patients how to say no while preserving their self-respect and respect for others; Emotion Regulation is the practice of managing overwhelming emotions. The DBT Skills Training runs exactly like a class. All the DBT skills are taught, and homework is assigned so clients are able to apply their knowledge in everyday life. Then social workers provide individual therapy to help clients learn how to apply their knowledge based on challenges in their life. In the case of sex-trafficking victims, therapists are often well-aware of the patients’ histories, which commonly include extreme emotional, physical, sexual, and emotional violence and take this into consideration when they suggest how they should cope with situations that may trigger a reaction. This runs once a week, simultaneously with the group session. There is also in-the-moment support for those clients in case they have an emergency. DBT social workers also help clients structure their physical and social atmospheres with case management, and they only intervene when absolutely necessary.
Ultimately, I believe that social workers can make great strides in the fight against sex-trafficking by administering DBT in sex-trafficking shelters. And while it all seems pretty unrealistic if we consider how taboo the issue remains, it’s undeniable the issue has generated more attention than ever before. We recently learned that former ‘Smallville’ cast-member, Allison Mack, was charged with sex-trafficking with her alleged involvement in an alleged cult, “Nexium” run by herself and the founder Keith Raniere. Even the social workers and psychologists at the heart of the mission are speaking to the media, such as Iana Matei, the founder of Reaching Out Romania, who was featured in the Huffington Post for her incredible work in rescuing over 470 victims of sex-trafficking since 1998. So, we aren’t as far away as we may think in tackling the issue. It’s just a matter of remaining cognizant of the reality and dedicated enough to fix the issue. And it’s in the scope – and the hearts – of social workers jobs to accomplish this.