Trauma-Informed Training Makes a Difference, A Survivor’s Story
Frontline first responders are the people that communities depend on in emergencies. I depended on them as well as a victim of human trafficking.
Who are first responders? They can include police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, nurses, paramedics, EMTS, ambulance drivers, and 911 dispatchers.
All first responders are in the unique position to make a huge difference in the lives of victims of trauma and human trafficking.
Frontline responders are some of the people I interacted with on a regular basis, often on a daily basis when I was being brutally sex trafficked and exploited in Washington, D.C., and in New York City for over a decade. From the ages of 12-24, I was raped, beaten, shot, stabbed, and brutalized.
I was 14 years old when I was viciously raped by a man who’d lured me into his car with the promise of money. After managing to escape the car, I saw I was bleeding and had stab wounds on my upper stomach and thighs and had to get myself to a hospital.
The entire time I was trafficked, I never had regular medical or dental care, the hospital Emergency Room (ER) was my “doctor”. When I walked into New York city St. Vincents hospital that night after being raped and robbed I felt like I was invisible. No one gave me direct eye contact or seemed to really see me.
As I stood holding myself up against the desk in the ER department waiting room, the ER intake person, a young woman asked me questions about why I was in the ER and began filling out the form in front of her. She seemed to accept everything I said to her, unquestioningly filling out the form as fast as she could.
The fact that I had no identification at all didn’t seem to faze her. She didn’t question me when I told her I was 21 years old, when in reality I was 14. I gave her a made-up name, age and address. I’d been programmed by my trafficker to never share my real name, age, or address with anyone. I never had an ID or social security number the entire time I was under his control.
I felt weak and dizzy as if I might faint when the ER intake person glanced up and noticed the faint blood stains on my clothing. She told me I could lay down on one of the gurney stretchers in the hallway as I waited to be seen by a doctor.
I felt safer in the crowded hospital ER with its police and criminals in handcuffs, than out on the “track” in the street.
I was finally seen by a doctor who quickly questioned me as he jotted down notes, never giving me direct eye contact. He briefly examined me and asked how I’d gotten the cuts on my body. I told him I’d had a fight with my boyfriend, I didn’t mention the rape.
He seemed to believe me. After getting some IV fluids administered and having my cuts cleaned up and bandaged, I left.
I wished for a few moments I could tell the doctor the truth, my true age and real name but I did not believe they cared or would actually help me.
I believe that if the hospital staff, the doctors and nurses had received trauma–informed training prior to my visit, they would possibly have been more informed as to what to look for, asked the right questions, and offer resources for support.
My interactions with law enforcement were also quick and matter of fact.
Police would come through the streets, chase down the young women and girls, put us into a van and take us to the police station. After collecting our names and addresses, our fingerprints and a polaroid photo would be taken.
Law enforcement is trained to look for criminal behavior. My actions after being arrested, my not giving eye contact, having inconsistencies in my statements were interpreted as criminal behaviors.
I believe if the law enforcement and first responders received trauma-informed training, they might have looked at me and treated me as the victim I was.
After many years of exploitation, at the age of 24 I was heavily addicted to heroin. I knew I was going to die soon; I decided to visit a drug rehab clinic.
Anita, the clinic receptionist and my first contact at the clinic, was the definition of a truly, trauma-informed person:
- She gave me direct eye contact,
- Listened when I spoke,
- Offered solutions and resources,
- Treated me like a human being.
Because of Anita, I managed to leave New York and begin my journey towards living a meaningful and productive life.
Some signs of human trafficking victims first responders can look for include:
- Physical Conditions: A human trafficking victim could show signs of physical or sexual abuse, such as bruises, cuts and other injuries they may not explain. Ie: I had cuts and bruises after being beaten by the trafficker or after being raped and robbed,
- Victims might also be without essential personal possessions ie: I had no identification of any kind the entire time I was trafficked
I believe all first responders have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of victims of human trafficking if they have received trauma-informed trainings and know what to look for and the right questions to ask.
By Barbara Amaya, Author, Survivor Leader, Trafficking Expert
To read more about Barbara Amaya, find her books, read about her advocacy work and experiences, please visit: www.barbaraamaya.com