Answers to Our Most Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: How does Safety Compass help?
A: Safety Compass is a free, confidential advocacy service for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and their families. Our role is to encourage and empower the participants in our program to heal using their existing strengths and by building in additional protective factors while working with their Navigator (SC staff person assigned to assist in making connections to resources). We utilize the Resiliency Model as our operational framework and believe that young people have an increased capacity to heal from adverse childhood events when they are surrounded be people who believe in them and their capabilities.
Q: What assessment tools do you use?
A: We utilize the stages of change model as our framework for supporting participants in our program. Being an empowerment based program we believe that outcomes are significantly more positive when survivors own readiness is the driving factor in all of their involvement with various systems. We believe an entire multi-disciplinary team can work from the stages of change model and that we have seen it be highly effective in dictating everything from placement, to family court proceedings, to criminal justice proceedings like grand jury and trial. In order to encourage growth and access to supports we also practice assertive engagement and motivational interviewing as our methods of intervention.
Q: When is it an appropriate time for the anti-trafficking movement to ask survivors to share their stories?
A: Safety Compass is an advocacy service provider whose operational philosophy is rooted in the broader anti-violence and anti-oppression movement. We seek to use any power or privilege inherent in our role as a formal organization to create opportunities for the empowerment and upward mobility of the survivors we work with. However we are wary of creating speaking platforms that focus on survivor’s trauma stories and do not feel that it is ever appropriate to ask survivors to share their personal stories, or create “seats at the table” for survivors dependent on their sharing of their past trauma. We have seen harm done to survivors in the movement through repeated “tokenization” and hope to support broader opportunities for survivor-leadership that utilizes their knowledge and expertise as advocates and social change agents. The hyper-focus on survivor's trauma can sometimes send the message that it is the only element of their larger identity worth sharing, or worse, that it is their entire identity. With this said, we also acknowledge that due to the extreme forms of marginalization, dehumanization, and silencing that survivors of the sex industry face, there can be real value in creating space for the truth to be told, for survivors to be believed, for their experiences to force their way into public discourse and to shape the movement. This is something each survivor must determine for themselves, without pressure from the movement. We encourage survivors who do decide to share, to create a safety plan about their disclosure ahead of time and identify a support community to surround themselves with afterward. If and when the time seems right for a survivor to share, we believe:
Any disclosure of a survivor’s trauma story should be:
B) Within an environment that feels “safe” as determined by the survivor themselves
C) Not a contingency for Safety Compass receiving or negotiating donations
D) Not intended to be shared specifically as a marketing tool for Safety Compass.
Survivors have unfortunately been made to feel re-exploited at times by the very movement who’s declared mission is to “set them free.” While we believe these efforts have taken place with good intentions, and that some of the survivor-sharing that has occurred has been truly valuable in breaking this conversation open and making space for more survivor voices to follow, we do not want to perpetuate the “marketing” of survivors’ trauma stories for gain of organizations and at the expense of those survivors themselves. If and when the survivors we work with choose to be public with their story we celebrate their freedom of choice. If and when the survivors we work with want to tell their own stories on their own terms, we will do whatever is in our power to help create opportunities for that in a way that gives them the control of how the story is told and to whom it is disseminated. If and when they could gain or benefit from using their own artistic abilities, or creative sharing, we will seek ways to assist them in doing so, that benefit them directly.
Finally, we seek to never do harm to those we work with and have witnessed many instances of survivors sharing their trauma stories only to tell us afterward that they had hoped that doing so would allow them a place in the movement or to be seen as a valuable contributor to the conversation, when in reality, their sharing only re-traumatized them and triggered emotional and psychological distress. We reject anything, no matter how inadvertent, that could make survivors feel like their identity or value is somehow derived from their abuse. Survivors are innately valuable. They are more than their trauma story. They are incredible, fully present human beings, every bit as whole as anyone else in the conversation. They have unique and valuable insight to share about the topic of sex-trafficking in general, about advocacy, anti-oppression work, etc., and their contribution to the story is powerful when it involves their whole self and their present wisdom.
Q: I want to help and I am really passionate about anti-trafficking work. How can I get involved?
A: The greatest way to support survivors is to understand that they are already interacting with multiple systems (social, medical, criminal justice) and then apply your own skill set and passion to supporting those existing agencies that do great trauma-informed, culturally competent work with commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) survivors. We also encourage you to check out the great work being done by survivor-leaders in the movement and support those efforts. What you may find is that your local systems of care already have these kinds of services that are doing best-practices style trauma work, and they may even already have culturally specific services for CSE survivors. In this case, the most helpful way to get involved would be to volunteer or support their missions. If you are unsure of where to begin, some great places to start are the local domestic violence and sexual assault support service agencies in your area. CSE is a combination of domestic violence, sexual assault, and in the case of children’s involvement, it is child abuse. Supporting existing advocacy agencies that do anti-violence work ensures that you are supporting trauma-informed practices that have been built over decades of critique and within the context of academic research and theory. If you are unsure of whom these credible providers are one of the most successful ways to find out is to speak with your local police department about who they refer survivors of these crimes to.
If you find, after having approached the local PD and having searched local providers, that there are no culturally specific CSE services available in your area, we recommend you find out who the credible CSE service providers in your state are (even if they are a considerable distance from you) and see if these groups may be able to mentor you in a way that allows you to be an ally in your own geographic area. Your due diligence at the beginning will safe guard you against reinventing the wheel, which can cause splintering of the movement in ways that do not benefit survivors. We highly recommend passionate folks do their homework and seek to support credible agencies doing trauma-informed work rooted in the broader anti-violence movement. Don’t give up hope; there is definitely a place for you here! We need you in this work. We just want you to find your way into a role that allows you to be highly effective in creating change for good.
Q: My ________ and I (read: civic group, church small group, club, school, etc.) want to do something to help the women and children we see walking the street, in clubs etc., and we are thinking about starting a street/sex venue outreach. What do you think?
A: We are often approached for advisement by groups who are interested in doing anti-trafficking work, seeking to interact with individuals being exploited while they are “working” or involved in acts of exploitation. While there have been instances where we have seen this go well, we are extremely cautious in supporting such efforts. We do appreciate the desire to convey respect and compassion to folks involved the industry. We have known a select few who understood the dynamics of those venues well enough to know when best to approach the survivor, how to best convey respect, etc. Often it is survivors of those particular venues who end up being most equipped to enter into those environments safely and respectfully. Conversely, we realize that those are not dynamics easily deciphered by people who have not been exploited or worked in those particular situations. Every moment spent interacting with that survivor who is “on the clock” is time that they could spend making money. What we know is that most of those being exploited/ “working” have a pimp who is expecting them to make their quota, or set amount of money, for that time period. If the presence of service providers detracts from that individual being able to meet their quota, they could be beaten, raped, or in other ways abused as punishment. While the intentions of street/ venue outreach teams are great, we believe that they can sometimes do more harm than good. We suggest weighing all of the pros and cons mentioned above and keeping safety the first priority for groups considering this.
Stay tuned for additional thoughts as we grow!...