The Role of Social Work in Combating Sex-Trafficking

Sex trafficking is hugely prevalent 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 it has actually increased from 35.7% from 2016-2017 in the United States. Media exposure and celebrity advocacy still remains light, even though we’ve marginally discussed the issue with Ashton Kutcher’s advocacy.  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.

I Received A DM from Violet Paley, And Here’s What I Now Know About Abuse

A message from Violet Paley helped me understand the dark world of covert psychological abuse and why we continue ignoring the signs~


Did I expect Violet Paley to disclose her side of the story after I wrote an article defending James Franco? Not in a million years.

When Paley alleged Franco displayed “sexually exploitative and inappropriate behavior”, I wrote Is James Franco Apologizing for Bruising the Ego’s of Young Women?  to send the world a message about the witch-hunt she pioneered to avenge a career she believed Franco would advance.

According to the LA Times, the five women involved with this scandal believed Franco could help them professionally and “acquiesced to his wishes even when they were uncomfortable.”  Later, Paley revealed  that I was “the only person who had a problem with the statement”; still, I was convinced she used #metoo to forge ahead in her career, and there was no better time to stir the pot than right after his win for Best Actor at the Golden Globes.

The aftermath was nothing short of catastrophic for Franco. His mural was painted over at his high school, he was removed from Vanity Fair’s Hollywood cover, forced to apologize for his behavior on Colbert’s Late Show, and was humiliated in nearly every major news source in the country. Still, it was only the stories of five, young women, all of whom the country knew little else about, that convinced us he was a sexual predator.

In writing the article, I aimed to question the legitimacy of these claims. Had we defined sexual harassment yet? How thoroughly were these allegations investigated before Franco was deemed a predator?  Had we considered other motivations these woman could’ve had to accuse Franco of sexual harassment?

So when Paley contacted me directly, it was nothing short of flabbergasting. First I received a friend request from an eerily familiar looking girl, with darkness around her eyes, as if she screamed for help with them alone. Her platinum blonde hair was plastered against her porcelain skin, but before I could assess more of her picture, I received a DM.

“You don’t even know the half of it.” she started the Facebook conversation.

“Then tell me.” I responded.

She referenced my article: “‘How do we know Franco wouldn’t have stopped his advances if Paley asked him to?’ I said can we not do this here.”

“ ‘And how do we know her allegations were not out of resentment as he basked in glory at the Golden Globes while she herself admitted to expecting career advancement out of their relationship?’ Because I’ve been saying it for months, almost a year, and it only went viral because he was trending that day and I was appalled by the “Time’s Up” hypocrisy. I didn’t “expect” career advancement. He offered to help me with my career.”

The conversation took an ugly turn: ‘Honestly, I’m offended by your post,’ she started, “your article was tweeted to me by pro-trump trolls who have sent me death threats. Just so you know who your article is helping.”

“Honestly, I really didn’t think too many people would read it. Let alone you.”

“Then why did you write it?”

“My intention was not to hurt you or create this type of uproar. Clearly, it was to make a point based on what I thought was the reality of the situation. Maybe you should take this up with the LA Times: ‘In some cases, they (the girls) believed Franco could offer them career advancement, and acquiesced to his wishes even when they were uncomfortable.’ ”

“I am in contact with them, and you are the only person who has a problem with that statement. Not all of us are given opportunities from our families, so when someone says they’ll help us, we take it.”

“What does my family have to do with this?”

Did I just become another victim in this convoluted witch-hunt? I couldn’t help if other people used my article to justify their actions. I didn’t send her death threats.

She answered my question, “No. But I’m saying that in Hollywood to get ahead you need family in the business. And I don’t have that and neither did these girls. And we LIKED James. So he took advantage of both those facts.”

Shortly after, Paley sent me a message from another girl he allegedly forced to give him oral sex. The message was about my article…

As I read this message, and re-read our conversation, I began to question whether I did, in fact, take the truth, and twist and diminish it, just to open it up for ridicule. Did I string together facts only to validate my first impression of Paley as being a fame-hungry millennial looking for 15 minutes of fame? It became clearer that Paley’s situation was very different than I’d originally anticipated, and if I’d been much less ignorant to the realities of abuse – and placed her story in the right context – I could have saved her that much more mistreatment.

“James psychologically threatened me and several girls. If we didn’t do things his way, he’d hate us, and we would have to give up on our dreams.”

Was James Franco conscious of the self-worth he destroyed or controlled by an unconscious need to dominate these women? We don’t know. We don’t know WHY he took out his genitalia in a car and continued his advances even after Paley confessed she was uncomfortable with the atmosphere, which should’ve been reason  enough for him to stop his advances.

Whatever the case, the reality remains that Franco abused his power to get what he wanted, and these covert psychological tactics can only be tackled if we identify the signs, and punish those in the exact same way Paley had done to James. And the punishment was, and still is, appropriate for what he’d done.

I apologized to Paley and promised to make it public.

“Thanks,” she responded, “I hope you don’t write that way about women again. Thank you.”

“I won’t, I promise.”

If you ever have the chance to meet Violet Paley, you are a lucky person. I thought myself a feminist until I met her. Someone willing to fight for her rights even while her life was threatened. Not just standing by her convictions, but knowing enough within herself that those convictions are worth fighting for. Thanks to her, much of the gritty work is done. Now we must remain conscious enough to continue the fight until every woman no longer has to worry about sexual harassment.

Thank you Violet Paley for all you’ve done for this movement, for women, and for me.

With love,



Thank you Violet Paley

I think as an artist, we feel the need to speak frankly on what we believe is right and wrong. Not that it’s not universal to an extent, but as artists we feel responsible for spreading that message. We must do it to stay alive

But that doesn’t mean our convictions are always channeled in the right direction. So when Violet Paley reached out to me I couldn’t imagine that this young girl would have anything too life-changing to say to me especially since I rode a high horse being accomplished in my field, and her being the butt of so many jokes throughout America when she accused James Franco of what I perceived as bullshit at the time. But I have to say, she is far more remarkable than I ever imagined she would be, and changed my perception of myself and my experiences forever.

Thematically my Facebook has centered around abuse which may seem like overkill depending on who you are, and how you relate your own experiences to yourself and others. But I never really had courage to admit I suffered extreme abuse for most of my life. And I think embarrassment and generations of acceptance to mistreatment lead me to not only minimize my own experiences, but to also minimize the experience of others.

When I saw what Paley had done, her bravery and relentlessness triggered in me a need to just hide, to turn the blind eye as most people do because it just seemed natural and intuitive. But to be honest, that’s what creates the pain. That’s what perpetuates the anger. I won’t get into much more of my own experiences because I’m not ready. Nor do I feel it’s particularly relevant because the concept here is about a young woman from LA who changed my life. But I do feel a moral responsibility to myself and the world to account how she changed me – because we are inherently ignorant creatures who must come to our own conclusions in order to change, and it may impact more people in the long-range than if it were lectured to them.

But the point here is this: we cannot harbor on the past. We cannot change what happened. But we can speak, and should speak, not only for ourselves but for people who cannot speak for themselves. And prove that damage is nothing to be ashamed of because pain is collective. And it’s ok to have experienced it.

I did not write this article to get more renown. I’m established but far from famous and the in-depth article I have written could give me far more recognition if published on the right source. But I will not do that unless Violet consents because protecting her and honoring her experiences is far more important to me than getting ahead. Somehow the experience loses all it’s beauty if I use it for myself. Plus I can hardly forget how my Huffpost article helped others hurt her – and I am still ashamed of this.

But all I can say is she put me in my place. I’m reckless at times, but in the wise words of Angelina Jolie, I am not ‘a rebel without a cause.” And finally I know what that cause is, and I’m brave enough to speak. Speak from my soul. And get this off my chest.

Much love to all.

Merissa Bury

Channeling Sexual Energy Into Productive Energy

Sex. One of the greatest motivational forces in life. Our sexual impulses control so much of what we do, how we act, and the choices we make. But if not properly harnessed, these impulses can lead to great destruction.

Sexual energy is what drives this urge. It is a life-energy. The vibe we give off when we interact with others. The way a woman speaks or the way a man glares. A mode of communication which transcends even the intellectual and emotional realms of human interaction.

It is a force that we feel. However, often we channel this energy into… sex. Yes, this is important; without sex our species would’ve died out long ago. But if not controlled, in doing this, we can create extreme gender imbalances in society. I would argue some of the world’s greatest social, political and economic issues for women are somewhat rooted in male and female inequality.

Sexual dilemma is arguably the most significant human conflict. It is the way we question the gender roles in any given society: male and female expectations.

Advertisements, TV shows, and movies all imply that a woman’s greatest significance is in her sexual allure. Standards of attractiveness may vary by region, but whatever is considered “sexy” is arguably the greatest measure of female desirability in that area of the world.

Women are susceptible to these standards. They understand the value of being attractive and use their sexuality to their advantage. To an extent, this is validating. Flirting with a cop to get out of a ticket. Dressing provocatively to get into exclusive parties. But in the quest to be truly gratified, this rather one-dimensional persona is paradoxically disempowering to women. Any woman subjected to this objectification (whether it be as extreme as prostitution or minuscule as bartending at a comedy club) can at least relate somewhat to the abuse and discrimination that is often imposed on women in these dimensions.

Men’s own sexual struggle would render them very ‘tempted’ in this matter. Their intense sexual desires drive them to penetrate as many attractive females as possible, even while they are committed to one. It is a difficult feat for a man to humanize a woman who has sexualized herself for his validation. He will likely perceive her as an object – which may or may not manifest into harmful treatment towards her. But in any case, how he perceives her will affect how significant she becomes to him. So, discriminatory treatment in a sense is in the inevitable outcome of him objectifying her.

So, in the quest to be socially accepted, women are paradoxically self-sabotaging their own empowerment. Men neurologically struggle to multi-facet women who are sexualized, and women fear social rejection if they multi-facet themselves. So, in the process, qualities that would otherwise yield to women’s full empowerment — intellect, assertion, independence — may not fully develop.

This is actually disempowering for men as well. If a man constantly sexualizes a woman, he is not prompted to develop feelings for her in most cases — unless he is in touch with the situation – which would naturally manifest if he developed feminine traits within himself (namely compassion).

This is not the fault of any one gender: it is merely the imbalance of the two.

Ultimately, in the process of attracting sex (women) and pursuing sex (men), nothing too significant gets accomplished. What is typically depicted as the most gratifying means of sexual release actually perpetuates “use” and “abuse” in male and female relationships, if that is the only way to measure a woman. Women use their sexuality to get what they want, and men do take advantage of those opportunities – whether they are cognizant of this reality or not.

This is not to imply that sex is wrong or bad. It is a great mode of communication that creates some of the most mind-blowing physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences. It has just been misconstrued as the only satisfying means of sexual release. If not for ‘gender roles’, both men and women would be able to embrace a much wider range of their sexuality.

The cycle can only be broken if we consider other outlets of sexual release. We can then transduce our sexual energy into productive energy. The process is all very specific to the individual — it usually occurs once the current system in one’s life crumbles.

In my own sexual dilemma, I found myself deficient in many areas of life: relationships, jobs, money. I repressed masculine traits that would’ve otherwise empowered me if I hadn’t sacrificed them for social acceptance. In turn, I measured my own worth by men’s standard of physical attractiveness, especially in the dating world. On the outside, I seemed content. But inside I was pretty frustrated with the one-dimensional female role I assumed in hopes of finding the best possible mate (which naturally attracted men who prioritized appearances above all other traits). So, in the end, I lost out.

So, I made a vow that I would change. I channeled energy that was once expended on sexual allure into duty. A purpose. A responsibility. I started writing, working, and just operated in a way which allowed me to exercise all my masculine traits – such as assertiveness, intellect, and overall dominance – in many important aspects of my life. Traits I suppressed for years.

So, I encourage men and women to openly embrace their gender conflicts! I encourage them to explore the full range of their sexuality and consider other outlets of sexual release — transducing sexual energy into productive energy.

In the process, perhaps we can also redefine our notion of human desirability. Sex will always define us to an extent — we cannot help but to measure people based on their attractiveness. But as we expand our sexuality, we may also broaden the range of traits we find desirable in others. Creating altogether, a more gender balanced society…