Developing Resilience is Human Trafficking Prevention

Developing Resilience is Human Trafficking Prevention

Developing resilience is human trafficking prevention.

To end sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, we must first find where the poisonous plant began to take root and grow.

In the fight to eradicate human trafficking, prevention is the key, and that key is made up of community involvement and attitudes, shifting social structures, relationships and individual knowledge.

We must develop resiliency in children at an early age. A person becomes more vulnerable to being trafficked if they endure a series of adverse childhood experiences. When we can foster a sense of resiliency in children, they are empowered to break that cycle of trauma, and that is one cornerstone to prevention.

The Problem

Where we neglect to see the prevention opportunity, in some cases, is at the beginning of a person’s life.

If we look at mental health and human trafficking prevention, it is a framework that is expansive and complicated.

For the purpose of this piece, we need to narrow down our focus to what the effects of developing resilience and a coordinated response to children who have experienced traumatic events can do in the primary prevention of human trafficking.

From the beginning, to prevent a child from spiraling into a cycle of abuse and exploitation as an adult, we must first isolate the warning signs that they may be susceptible to it.

In the groundbreaking ACEs research done by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda, “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study,” it highlights how neglect, abuse (both physical and sexual) and violence within a household could cause negative health outcomes in children for years to come.

The correlation between the ACEs score and physical health outcomes are staggering. A person with an ACE score of four or more is 2.2 times more likely to suffer from ischemic heart disease; 1.9 times more likely to get any cancer; 10.3 times more likely to be an intravenous drug user; 2.2 times more likely to smoke; 1.6 times more likely to be morbidly obese; and 12.2 times more likely to attempt suicide.

ACEs are a direct cause of toxic stress, which is a condition stemming from a constant and profound physiological response of “fight, flight or freeze.”

In children who experience high ACEs, this stress response is heightened, affecting their early development and essentially rewiring their brain to respond to stressful situations with the same extreme physical and behavioral responses – no matter how mundane the stimuli.

Developing resilience in children make them less vulnerable to traffickers and has the capacity to prevent human trafficking.

In children and in adults with untreated mental health issues stemming from traumatic childhoods, that rewiring often results in an inability to make sound and safe decisions.

According to the study “Identification of Trauma Exposure and PTSD in Adolescent Psychiatric Inpatients: An Exploratory Study,” “youth diagnosed with PTSD are more likely to have (a) higher levels of anxiety and depression symptoms; (b) high degrees of comorbidity with other mental health disorders; (c) engage in high-risk (e.g., running away), self-harming, or delinquent behaviors; and (d) evidence poorer functioning relative to youth without PTSD.”

Running away and high-risk behaviors could lead to human trafficking. That vulnerability should not be laid at the feet of the victims, however, it is a community responsibility and a social responsibility to address it.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris author of the “Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity,” discusses practical details of the ACEs study and how it relates to children today and her multi-disciplinary approach to treating toxic stress could stem the tide toward unhealthy outcomes and behaviors.

In the “Deepest Well,” Dr. Harris advocates for screening of ACEs at the doctor’s offices across the nation. She also builds the argument that ACEs occur in every child – no matter where they are on the socioeconomic ladder, what race they are or what neighborhood they grew up in.

“Think about it like this: We all live in a forest with different kinds of bears. There is a large group of bears that populate a part of the forest called Poverty, and if you live there, you’re going to see a whole lot of bears. There’s also a part of the forest called Race, where a different cluster of bears hang out. And there is another bear neighborhood called Violence. If you live near any of these bear dens, your stress-response system is going to be affected. But here’s the important part – it is affected the same way no matter which bear you tango with.”

Dr. Nadine Burke, “The Deepest Well”

She also said there are a lot of “bears” that live in neighborhoods, such as “parental mental illness,” “divorce,” and “addiction.”

Dr. Harris pointed out that “we aren’t going to make a dent in the problem by creating solutions for just one community.”

This revelation lends itself to the research done about human trafficking victims in Florida. Though many victims of exploitation are born from vulnerable populations, that does not necessarily mean they all are.

A study in the American Journal of Public Health, “Human Trafficking of Minors and Childhood Adversity in Florida,” illustrates that the common thread of young victims of human trafficking is adverse childhood experiences.

Researchers discovered that most youth who entered the juvenile justice system in Florida with reports of human trafficking had a higher ACE score.

To unpack the study further, these children had ACE scores of six or more.

The most prevalent ACEs in the researchers’ 913-participant study group included emotional abuse, physical abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, family violence and sexual abuse.

Among advocates, therapists, health care providers and social workers, it is relatively common knowledge that the prevalence of sexual abuse is a key indicator in whether a child is further victimized through sex trafficking.

In this study, however, the researchers took it one step further.

They concluded that sexual abuse in connection with a high ACE score may serve as a key predictor of exploitation in human trafficking.

Where sexual abuse did not necessarily mean a child would invariably be exploited, the addition of high ACE scores proves a further trajectory toward victimization.

Sexual abuse does function as a gateway trauma, initiating increased likelihood of exposure to other forms of exploitation, but coupled with other adverse childhood experiences that likelihood may increase further.

For instance, in the study on Florida youth, the researchers found that girls who experience sexual abuse and physical abuse are at an increased risk for being trafficked. Another indicator for girls is the presence of emotional neglect in the home.

For boys, according to the study, emotional and sexual abuse were indicators of victimization likelihood. Boys who experienced emotional abuse were 2.55 times at greater risk of being trafficked. Boys who experienced sexual abuse were 8.21 times more likely to be trafficked.

Though the study was limited to youth involved in the juvenile justice system and not all youth without criminal records, it bears out an almost intuitive conclusion. ACEs are indicators.


 Developing resilience in children make them less vulnerable to traffickers and has the capacity to prevent human trafficking. Normalizing a collective, multi-disciplinary response to trauma can also improve resiliency in children and in parents.
Developing resilience in children make them less vulnerable to traffickers and has the capacity to prevent human trafficking. Normalizing a collective, multi-disciplinary response to trauma can also improve resiliency in children and in parents.

A Community Response

If we know the origin, then we can prevent it.

The researchers in the Florida study concluded that as well. They called for more screening tools and assessment procedures to identify victims of human trafficking.

They also highlighted the need for prevention education for adolescents, which could greatly reduce risk behavior, and thereby reduce human trafficking among youth.

Bringing the ACEs screening and treatment into our communities, on a neighborhood level, is a good way circumvent the possible trafficking outcomes.

Dr. Harris, in her efforts to incorporate treatment for toxic stress and stymie the negative behaviors and health outcomes, began the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco’s Bay View Hunters Point neighborhood.

Dr. Harris’ vision for CYW was to develop a team-based care approach to prevent, screen and heal the impacts of ACEs. Her work has been met with success, and what began as an initiative to change her patients’ lives at her small family clinic, soon became a national awareness campaign.

If Dr. Harris can make such an impact with her collaborative approach to treating ACEs, then it is not out of the realm of possibility, that the same model can be incorporated into every community.

And if such a model were to be intertwined in our communities, then it would make an incredible impact in the eradication of human trafficking. If we can stop the cycle of victimization before it is perpetuated, then we can be one step closer to seeing the end of human trafficking.

How Parents and Caregivers Can Curb the Effects of Trauma

It is likely that a child will have a lived adverse experience.

One in 10 children have experienced at least three. Childtrends.org completed a report based off of the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health and census data to unpack how many children were being affected by Adverse Childhood Experiences.

In North Carolina, according to this report, 53% of children have experienced 0 ACEs; 25% have experienced 1; 10% have experienced 2 ACEs and 12% have experienced between 3-8 ACEs.

READ THE REPORT, WHICH BREAKS THE DATA DOWN FURTHER IN NATIONAL REGIONS, RACE AND ETHNICITY.

And while that is on par with that national average, every child has the possibility to bounce back from adversity well and grow into thriving adults.

Developing resiliency in children has the capacity to not only help prevent human trafficking, but also reduce incarceration, substance use disorders, violent crimes and sexual violence.

Developing Resiliency in Children

1. Make connections

Teach the child how to make friends, including the skill of empathy, or feeling another’s pain. Encourage your child to be a friend in order to get friends.

2. Help a child by having them help others

Children who may feel helpless can be empowered by helping others. Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work, or ask for assistance yourself with some task that they can master.

3. Maintain a daily routine

Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially younger children who crave structure in their lives. Encourage the child to develop their own routines.

4. Take a break

While it is important to stick to routines, endlessly worrying can be counter-productive. Teach children how to focus on something besides what’s worrying them. Be aware of what the child is exposed to that can be troubling, whether it be news, the Internet or overheard conversations, and make sure the child takes a break from those things if they trouble them.

5. Teach your child self-care

Make yourself a good example, and teach the child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Make sure the child has time to have fun, and make sure that the child hasn’t scheduled every moment of their life with no “down time” to relax. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help them stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.

6. Move toward your goals

Teach them to set reasonable goals and then to move toward them one step at a time. Moving toward that goal — even if it’s a tiny step — and receiving praise for doing so will focus them on what has been accomplished rather than on what hasn’t been accomplished, and can help build the resilience to move forward in the face of challenges.

7. Nurture a positive self-view

Help the child remember ways that they have successfully handled hardships in the past and then help them understand that these past challenges help build the strength to handle future challenges. Help the child learn to trust their ability to solve problems and make appropriate decisions.

8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook

Even when the child is facing very painful events, help them look at the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Although the child may be too young to consider a long-term look on their own, help them see that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good.

9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery

Tough times are often the times when children learn the most about themselves. Help them take a look at how whatever they are facing can teach them and after the times have passed, they have the ability to learn and grow.

10. Accept that change is part of living

Change often can be scary for children and teens. Help them see that change is part of life and new goals can replace goals that have become unattainable.

THIS LIST IS ADAPTED FROM THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION. READ THE FULL TIP LIST HERE.


Resources for Parents and Community Members

Stewards of Children training offered by TEDI BEAR CAC

  • July 9 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • August 3 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Email Bonnie Jean Kuras at kurasb18@ecu.edu to register.


Melinda Sampson is the Community Outreach Coordinator at NC Stop Human Trafficking. You can contact her by email at melinda@ncstophumantrafficking.org.


Become a member of NC Stop Human Trafficking and join the anti-human trafficking in North Carolina.

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