October 01, 2015

Tips for Working with CSEC Survivors

Nola K. Brantley

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

  1. Treat survivors like they are more than their victimization. Survivors of commercial sexual exploitation should not be seen only in terms of their victimization. They are unique individuals. While their victimization is part of their experience, it is not their whole experience. Getting to know CSEC survivors means getting to know the whole person, which includes little things such as their favorite subject in school, their hobbies, or a memorable day of their lives. Spending time talking about their varied life experiences and engaging in activities that allow you to get to know their whole person is critical. 

  2. Understand that many survivors have a lack of belief in humanity. Many CSEC victims and survivors do not believe that anyone has their best interest in mind. This is part of the spiritual and social impact of their trauma. As a result, youth may say they do not want help, or be slow to build rapport or trust. It takes time and patience to show that you are an adult who can be trusted. Try to engage the youth by talking to them about what has worked or not worked in the past, find out about the youth’s family history directly from the youth (rather than reading their file or speaking with other providers), and engage in activities they enjoy. This can also include making sure all the youth’s basic needs are being met in a timely manner. Frequent contact is recommended to build and maintain trust and rapport. 

  3. Judgment shuts CSEC victims/ survivors down. CSEC victims and survivors face a lot of judgment and negative stigma in society, including in their own communities and families. When engaging with CSEC be aware that they are especially sensitive to judgmental statements and looks. Try to see things from their perspective to gain understanding and reduce judgmental attitudes. 

  4. Know why the CSEC victim/ survivor was victimized. In many cases, CSEC victims and survivors are revictimized for the same reason they were originally vulnerable to the commercial sex industry. It is critical to be aware of the original reason(s) the youth was vulnerable to exploitation – such as poverty, low self-esteem, or educational issues -- to assure the treatment team incorporates preventative services and support based on the youth’s known current and past vulnerabilities. The traffickers are skilled at identifying and responding to these youths’ needs – we need to make sure we are doing all we can do on our end to ensure we respond fully and appropriately. 

  5. Shelter, school, and therapy are not enough. CSEC victims and survivors need unconditional loving care, patience, and understanding to heal. Addressing their basic and educational needs and providing therapeutic services are critical. However, if they are missing a meaningful connection to a caregiver or support network, there is a good chance they will remain vulnerable to revictimization. 

  6. Exposure, Exposure, Exposure. You can reduce CSEC victims’ and survivors’ risk to revictimization by ensuring they are exposed to a variety of new activities and experiences. These activities and experiences can range from exposure to arts, sciences, and sports to opportunities for travel. Exposure does not only open their minds and hearts to new possibilities, but also makes the small things the traffickers do to lure the victims seem less significant. 

  7. Help victims build a support network. CSEC victims and survivors can benefit from a wide network of support, including youth programs, mentors, social service programs, sports, etc. Part of CSEC victims and survivors vulnerability was their lack of support. Building their network of support helps reduce their vulnerability to re-exploitation.

  8. Revictimization is part of the CSEC recovery process and stages of change. When working with CSEC victims and survivors, revictimization should be expected as part of the recovery process. Service providers should remain supportive and nonjudgmental during periods of revictimization and be ready to reassess where the victim/survivor is in this process upon returning for services. 

  9. CSEC victims and survivors need opportunities to gain and practice new skills. Many CSEC victims and survivors see themselves in purely sexual terms. Gaining new skills to see themselves in a new light is a critical part of their recovery. It is also important for them to gain both unpaid and paid opportunities to practice and grow those new skills. 

  10. Always consider safety first when working with CSEC victims and survivors. Advocates working with CSEC should consider safety both for the victim/ survivor and for themselves. Some things to consider include: 
  • Is the meeting location with the victim/ survivor safe? 
  • Is anyone currently violently pursing the victim/survivor?

—Nola K Brantley, CEO, Nola Brantley Speaks!