Background and Purpose: According to the Office of Victims of Crimes, it is imperative to engage sex trafficking survivors in anti-trafficking leadership and decision-making in order to provide effective services to victims. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, sex trafficking involves the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act. While there is no official estimate of the total number of persons who are trafficked in the USA, estimates indicate that the actual number of victims in the USA reaches into the hundreds of thousands.
Many sex trafficked women suffer from depressive, anxiety, dissociative, borderline personality, eating and substance disorders and suicide attempts. Many survivors report numbness, depression, lethargy, self-blame/guilt, poor concentration, loss of appetite and sleep disturbances. As a result, many seek social services. It is during these times of formal interventions that many trafficked women learn empowerment strategies, gain their independence, come to identify as survivors and learn how to be leaders.
The Survivor Leadership Model does not consider sex trafficking victims as victims—instead it views them as survivors. The Survivor Leadership Model consists of five components: 1. a trauma-informed approach; 2. Input and direction from survivors; 3. adequate resource allocation by the organization’s upper management; 4. empowerment of the survivor; and 5. post-graduation support. This model served as the conceptual framework for this study.
The purpose of this research was three-fold:
AIM 1) Examine the transition of sex trafficking victims to that of a survivor
AIM 2) Examine leadership roles of sex trafficked women
AIM 3) Assess sex trafficking survivors’ perception of leadership
Methods: Using convenience and snowball sampling methods, a sample of 25 adult sex trafficking survivors were interviewed using a sociodemographic questionnaire and a nine item interview guide. Participants were over the age of 18; had met the criteria for sex trafficking in their past; had received social services post trafficking and served in a leadership capacity in the anti-trafficking movement. Interviews were conducted in person. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim by the researcher. Transcriptions were coded; content analysis was used to find emergent themes related to the research aims.
Results: The results indicate that Adverse Childhood Experiences are positively correlated with sex trafficking and that treatment precedes identification as a survivor and the development of leadership roles.
Emergent Themes Aim 1
- Abuse as a Precursor to Trafficking
- Drug Use
- Forced Prostitution
- Incarceration (Jail or Prison)
- (Religion/God/Higher Power)
- Counselors (Substance Abuse Field)
Emergent Themes Aim 2
- 2.1 Outreach
- 2.2 Public Speaking
- 2.3 Peer Mentoring
Emergent Themes Aim 3
- 3.1 Honest
- 3.2 Strong
- 3.3 Open-minded
- 3.4 Role Model
Conclusion and Implications: Trafficked women can be leaders. This study hopes to contribute to the literature on leadership development using the voices of survivors. This study will also be used as a pilot study for a larger research project related to substance use and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).