Life After Trafficking, part 2: Life on the Streets
Hello and thank you for visiting. Today is a special day for me. I will be sharing a part of my story that I haven’t talked about much in the past. The story that I told in yesterday’s post is the part of my background that most people want to hear. But today’s post covers the part where there may be the largest need. Social justice groups cover stopping trafficking; they cover domestic abuse, and child abuse. There are organizations that focus on child victims of trafficking and give them a safe place. I want to start out today by saying that I am not criticizing any of these organizations. They are doing amazing work that specializes in specific areas of the cause. I am not saying that they should change course. I am merely pointing out that there is a void in the advocacy circles when it comes to providing services to women who are trying to escape domestic trafficking.
As I look back and contemplate my life immediately following captivity, I am reminded of the shock that I experienced after being what many would consider “free”. The physical symptoms of anxiety were overwhelming; churning in my stomach, disorientation, and nowhere to go. I had shed my chains, but I was certainly not free. I had endured so much up to this point. Giving up was not an option. I had to continue to live. I didn’t know anyone, I couldn’t go home to my family and ridicule myself as a ‘failure’ what could I tell them? I was a prostitute, climbed the ranks of a sex industry to become a madame? All I could think about was the shame that my family would feel knowing that their first born had been sex slave. If our US laws didn’t recognize me as a victim at the time, then my ultra-conservative Korean parents definitely would not.
The trauma I endured brought a heavy price in the aftermath of trafficking. I was addicted to the drugs that my pimps had forced on me. I had little formal education, no identification, and had been withdrawn from society that I had few options. I turned back to prostitution, selling drugs, and a slew of other crimes to survive. Finding my way off of the streets was not easy. I got nothing but closed doors and fixes for symptoms, but no one was ever there to look at the root cause for me. I was taken as a young naive teenager but by this point I was a woman. And women should be responsible for their own outcomes in life. After constant ongoing of abuse by the system, the repeat cycle of life on the streets and the tireless meet ups with my doctor to medicate my trauma, I couldn’t take it anymore. I either needed to die or do something different, the resources I was given was the same thing: go to a meeting, find a sponsor, go to a church for meals, visit a church, join a program, what I needed was NOT available.
I would stay in shelters from time to time, but being in a shelter comes with it’s own set of challenges. I was clueless on the rules and different types of shelters there were.
I learned real quickly that if you are considered homeless due to drug addiction or prostitution you were sent to transitional shelters. In transitional shelters you sleep on a cot in a shared room or a basement of a church with other people. It is a very scary place. Many of them are coed shelters. You always had to sleep with one eye open and have your belongings on you at all times. And in many cases being a woman in a transitional shelter meant that you might be assaulted. These usually have a 6 p.m. check in and 6 a.m. check out. In the morning you are told to leave regardless of weather conditions. The only time you are allowed to stay is under a doctor’s recommendation.
Domestic Violence Shelters
There are also Domestic Violence Shelters that are the nicer facilities depending on where go. In some you had to share rooms, and in others you might have your own room. In these shelters you can stay just as long as you participate in groups, activities and so forth. This is the most common type of shelter for women fleeing the sex industry. Unfortunately, if the staff knew that you were being abused by someone who is not your boyfriend or husband, then you would get thrown out. Even if your abuser is your pimp, it is not technically considered a domestic situation. Most of these shelters have to operate this way, because when they open their doors to a wider range of women in crisis, they become overwhelmed.
Transitional Housing or Halfway Houses
Next you have transitional housing, a long term stay that usually lasts between 6 months or more, depending on your needs assessment. The sad part about these is that it is not uncommon for staff to abuse the power that they have in this situation. There are many victims of trafficking who fall into these programs meant to provide a healing space only to be victimized again. In several cases there are non-professionally trained staff members that are doing work that should be handled by licensed counselors or social workers. A lot of transitional housing units receive subsidies or grants from the government, which also adds red tape to the mix that trafficking victims are not equipped to advocate for themselves and work through. There are also the workers who take advantage of the vulnerability of the situations that many of these women are in. Women are commonly raped in transition shelters because the abuser felt justified cause in his eyes as she was nothing but a prostitute. In some faith based housing units they put the ladies to work making jewelry which they then sell for a profit to the center. So they make the ladies work for room and board with no pay. The kicker is that if any of the ladies wants to keep a piece of jewelry she made, she still had to pay for it. Women are regularly bullied by staff to keep secrets of internal affairs in the facility. They threaten that if the victim speaks up then Child Protection Services will be called. When the threat comes from the staff, who will the court believe, the staff or the client they refer to as a “prostitute”? Finally, the intake in some of these shelters is horrifying. In many of these shelters you have to drop the victim off in sketchy neighborhoods, and trust that the organization will send a cab instead of a staff picking her up or meeting at a spot like a coffee shop. They use the excuse of maintaining anonymity for doing this, but there are other well respected shelters that will have police or a staff member pick up the victim from a safe place, or even some centers have a remote intake facility for drop offs where they are processed before being taken to a safe house.
These are just very few examples of exploitation in the movement, but there is so much more. We wonder why so many return to the streets, to drugs, or losing their kids to a broken system. I have lost sister survivors to overdose of drugs, suicide and some even been killed. The problem is that there is a gross under-representation of organizations that will actually help women break the cycle and set them up for success when entering the “real world”. This is why I speak; this is why I fight for these ladies and girls. These incidents have been going on for so long and it’s been covered up regardless if its faith based or secular, something has to change.