Words Survivors Want to Hear
Kathleen Bryant RSC
We have so much to learn from the soulful stories of victims, survivors, and thrivers from their experience of being trafficked. We have even more to learn from their collective wisdom and resilience.
I invited survivors/thrivers to share the words they most wanted to hear when first free as well as when they claimed themselves as survivors and then thrivers. In the responses, the women also shared words and phrases that are not acceptable or helpful. I will never forget the response of a woman I interviewed about 15 years ago when she expressed gratitude for being called a “survivor” and not a victim. Thanks to each of the survivors who responded to this request and to the sisters in our member houses of USCSAHT, who graciously invited their members to share.
The first response received reads like a meditation, a kernel of wisdom born out of life experience and suffering. Margeaux wished she had heard:
“You are not alone. I know you might be afraid and hurting. I hold space for you.
Also, I honor the courage and strength it took for you to step onto the journey of freedom.
It is a process and you have within you what it takes to heal and grow.
Do not be afraid to reach out for support and accept help.
You deserve it. There is hope.” Margeaux Gray
What are helpful words during the first hours and days when a woman is finally freed? Here are some words and feelings the women mentioned that they longed to hear when first free.
Pasi’s response is a prayer of gratitude and notable in that it includes a prayer for others: Thank you! Thank you, God! Hope that everyone can be OK and stronger. Siti Pasinah
What I would have liked to hear is, “we’re here to help you.”
An immediate need is rest! As one thriver remembers: The word that is coming up for me is Rest. Our healing happens when we sleep. There is no room for our human needs when we were trafficked and the process of getting away from trafficking is exhausting and frightening. And there isn’t a lot of validation for the need to rest in any corner of society. Yet what survivors often need immediately after being trafficked is a chance to sleep, rest and recover. Survivors need to hear it is ok to lay our heads down.
I wanted to hear “I believe you. I am here for you, no matter what you want to do.” Now, I mainly just want to see that people are safe by their behavior, not so much their words. But, as a trans nonbinary person, it’s still important to feel seen, heard, and safe in my own skin. “I accept you, and you are so important to me for exactly who you are. Your life is so valuable.” Charlie Quinn Tebow
You’ll adjust just fine. Your future holds much more.
God is good! you can pursue your dreams and desires now.
Once free, meeting other survivors is key.
As a victim I would have want to have heard from survivors on the other side to see that my world wasn’t over. I also would love to have heard some compassion from the police instead of laughing at me or saying they would be taking me home if they weren’t on the clock. As a survivor, I still need to remember and hear it wasn’t my fault and I deserve a happy healthy life just like anyone else.
I wanted to hear that you are not alone on this planet, that they understand me, they will help me and will not leave me alone until I can take care of myself financially. I want to hear that I’m safe and all the horrors are over.
Jasmine Grace Marino said that she needed to hear, “You are loved. You are washed clean. Forgiven. Made New!” “God is love” was revolutionary for me because I had been searching for it my entire life in people, places and things.“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, [she] is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” 1 John 4:16
Words or phrases that are not acceptable:
I don’t want to be referred to as “she sold sex” rather “ she was sold/bought for sex” is what happened to me.
Rescued- it implies that the survivor is someone waiting to be rescued because the word simplifies thus incredibly complex crime promotes misconceptions about who traffickers are and his they control and manipulate their victims.
Instead of Save use Assist
Instead of Set Free = Help to recover
Instead of Voices for the voiceless = Rebuild and heal
What’s wrong with you? Has been used by people who wanted to help and it made me feel disgusting until I met a social worker who asked “what happened” I was able to share my experiences in a way that felt kinda safe.
An organization once referred to me as doing sex work. That is misleading because the activity involved is neither sex, nor work- it’s rape/ assault. Instead use being prostituted or women in prostitution which is the legal term- SK
Donors’ money gives us hope and are praised for it. That diminishes our humanity. We have hope, a will to live and thrive and faith during the trafficking situation and after. I’d like to see organization’s respect our ability to survive and recognize their donors as people who are kind enough to give money for us to have the resources to heal
What words do I want to hear as a survivor/thriver?
Your shame has now been turned into your superpower
That I can live Happy, Joyous, and Free.
That using my past pain for someone else’s healing is giving God glory. We have overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our TESTIMONY! Jasmine Marino
Look how far you’ve come!
Life is hard, but you made just fine
I like it when people say kind words and compliments. For example, you are a very kind person, very caring about your children and others, a loving mother. You are strong and energetic, you do everything in time.
In Her Own Words:
Finally a poem written by a survivor/thriver:
“I’m not what I have done, I am what I’ve overcome”
I wave a crown of loneliness out of feeling overrun
Without Dawn’s Place I’d have no hope
Before I came here I was broken
I couldn’t handle life, let alone cope
& now that I am here this program has my full devotion
I never imagined someone would ever think I mattered
They pick me up when I am feeling down,
Because before Dawn’s place my life was shattered
If you ask me this is the best program around.
I don’t even think you could begin to comprehend
Dawn’s Place saved me from myself
Here I can be myself I don’t even want to pretend
I never thought I’d have a chance at life again
But dawn’s place continues to show me what I can be,
So today I am a survivor & getting stronger each day,
Today, nothing can stop me & I strive to be the best version of me
& I could not imagine my life in any other way
My Soul had been stomped upon.
I was lost, broken, helpless and hopeless.
Then the angels from Dawns Place swooped down and rescued me.
Little did I know, Dawns Place was the perfect place
For a woman to start a new life.
They placed my feet on a strong foundation.
They nurtured and helped to heal my broken heart.
They taught me honesty and integrity.
Dawns Place taught me how to rightfully love myself and others.
My healthy self-esteem soars with determination
My life has a new direction!
Thanks to Dawns Place I am a survivor, I am an overcomer
For more from thrivers about their resilience: