The original article was written for the National Mentoring Resource Center Blog. Read the full article here.
People need people. Each of us needs someone to encourage us when things go wrong and to cheer for us when we have success. For youth who are at risk for or have experienced child commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC), the need for healthy, supportive relationships is even greater. Having someone to walk beside them and encourage them through their recovery journey can make a huge difference.
A mentor can make a significant difference in the lives of youth who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation, but what is it about these relationships that can help survivors live up to their full potential?
Typically, CSEC survivors have a complicated history with relationships. Most survivors of CSEC have experienced significant relationship-based trauma before they are trafficked. Their understanding of relationships is further skewed during their experience of exploitation. Victims often view their trafficker/pimp as a significant other, boyfriend or protector. They come to believe that this is someone who cares for them despite significant abuse. The result is “trauma-bond” or what is commonly known as “Stockholm syndrome.”
With all of these traumatic experiences embedded in the relationship, survivors of CSEC have little understanding of what a healthy, supportive relationship looks like. Mentors can begin to fill in this gap by simply showing up on a consistent basis, investing in the youth, and creating boundaries. By modeling a healthy relationship, mentors can provide their mentee with a healthy pattern for future interactions with friends, significant others, family, and other personal relationships.
Mentors play an important role in the healing process of a CSEC survivor. As CSEC survivors exit a situation of exploitation, they often have difficulty seeing their own value and worth. So defeated by those who have exploited them and even some of the systems of care that have tried to help, they accept a false narrative about their ability to live full, prosperous lives.
Mentors can help shine a light on the numerous strengths of CSEC survivors, encouraging them to reclaim their identity as strong, worthy human beings. This is particularly powerful when mentors are also survivors themselves. Survivor mentors are able to instill much needed hope by providing an example of someone who has survived exploitation and come to a place of healing.
Mentors serve as a connection to new experiences and opportunities (hobbies, educational opportunities, employment, social and cultural experiences, etc.). It is through these opportunities that survivors begin to establish a strong social support system outside of the mentoring relationship. Such a network is vital to a young person’s continued success and healthy development.
Ultimately, mentors provide the supportive and consistent presence that is so often lacking for victims/survivors of CSEC. Having someone who will show up no matter what – even when bad decisions have been made, or hurtful words have been said – can shift the way that survivors approach life and help them achieve their full potential.
9 million young people in America are in need of a trusted adult in their lives to guide them in moments big and small. Join the In Real Life movement and become an advocate, make a donation or become a volunteer.