January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Trusted statistics indicate that trafficking of humans is a $32 billion annual enterprise, involving 27 million people worldwide. This is the second largest criminal activity and is quickly overtaking the first-ranked drug smuggling. These statistics are commonly used in the current literature on human slavery, which includes labor and sex trafficking. What is seldom discussed is the immense cost to an individual and to society of the after-effects of forced servitude, continual humiliation, degradation and horrific abuse.
Layhla’s story is not atypical, and gives a glimpse of the enormous toll that sex trafficking in particular exacts on us all. In addition to ongoing physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by her dad, she was also sold nightly by him to other men, often several at a time. These serial and gang rapings went on from the age of 12 to 20 when she was able to leave home and get into a treatment program. However, Layhla was not free from her dad who tracked her down and brought her back home. Even four years later, when she was living in a residential shelter with caring, protective people, her dad stalked her and forcibly raped her while she was alone at the home.
Connecting with concerned anti-trafficking warriors in another state, Layhla was able to get transportation out of the city where her dad lived and temporarily relocate to another state, and then move permanently across the country. She has been in the new location for 20 months now. Since severe PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Major Depressive Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder are her constant afflictions resulting from the magnitude of her abuse, she is not able to look for work, let alone hold a job. She has been living in various social service agency and behavior health settings, dealing with the backwash from all the previous years.
Sexual and physical abuses leave the body with all manner of chronic ailments. Layhla suffers from serious fibromyalgia and is on incessant pain medications and nerve prescriptions. She has been able to get on the state Medicaid insurance, so most of her medical needs are covered—by the rest of the taxpayers. She has seen several specialists and has had surgical procedures to kill the nerves in her lower back since that was the source of excruciating pain related to the fibromyalgia, and probably also from being thrown down stairs and other beatings from her dad. She has heart problems, female organ issues, stomach problems and had her gall bladder removed. Additionally, she has made numerous trips to the ER for these matters.
Mental health issues are an even larger cross to bear. On a daily basis, she has painful reminders of the horror of the experiences at her dad’s hands. She has on-going nightmares, particularly of her 13th birthday, in which she is resubjected to the gang rapings by her father and nine other men. She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at age 16, PTSD at age 18 and possible Borderline Personality Disorder. She has tried to overdose about 10 times and has been in an out of behavioral health hospitals since she was 17. In the last 20 months alone, she has spent nearly two-thirds of that time in and out of mental health hospitals, and most of the rest was in group home settings for people with mental illnesses. She is on medication for her depression and anxiety, to subdue the nightmares, and to off-set the side effects of some of the other scripts.
Due to the PTSD, Layhla can go into flashbacks which are set off by numerous triggers, causing her to retreat deep into herself and start cutting on herself with her fingernails.
In spite of being in mental health settings, she has received almost no therapeutic counseling services which directly address the trafficking trauma, the PTSD and the deeper root issues that cause a domino effect in her mind and emotions. The best therapy has come from a volunteer counselor who has now moved out of state. Getting services most appropriate to her needs has been difficult, and consistency in the services she does get is almost none.
The effects of sex trafficking on one young woman are immense and long-lasting. The road to healing is hard and frightening, and very difficult to accomplish without the right resources. Imagine this trauma multiplied 300,000 times just with children in the US alone, with the realization that perhaps one percent of these victims are able to get out of the pit of abusiveness and degradation and even fewer are getting the long term healing services they need. The result is a generation that has been decimated by a culture of lust and dehumanizing of little children for the sake of personal pleasure and monetary gain.
Next: A look at the financial costs of long term effects on sex trafficking survivors
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