The following was originally published as the preface from Sex Trafficking: A Clinical Guide for Nurses, and is republished here for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Like many Americans, I thought slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today, millions of people live in misery, forced into agricultural labor, sweat shops, domestic servitude, child soldiering, or the sex trade. They live in appalling conditions of filth and deprivation, are routinely subjected to violence, and are largely invisible to health care professionals who should be able to recognize, treat, and refer them for long-term help in rebuilding their shattered lives. We see a “prostitute” instead of a victim of exploitation. We see a “bad kid” instead of a little child who was raped at home and then repeatedly on the street—exploited by a pimp she has come to believe is the only person in the world who cares about her.
This book is designed to raise awareness and provide helpful information to nurses with the hope that they will be better able to help one of the most vulnerable populations, women and children trapped in the global sex trade. Most of the case studies are derived from stories of real people whose privacy is protected by camouflaging their identifying information. My clinical practice over the past 40 years has been almost exclusively focused on survivors of family violence, including child sexual abuse, but I was unaware of the extent of the child sex trade until the mid-1970s, when I met an 11-year-old I will call Luisa, who presented with ectopic pregnancy. When asked who the father was, she thought carefully and replied: “Well, it could be my father ... or one of my four brothers... or one of their friends.” It seems her father and brothers used her at will and then rented her out on the weekends when they would hold open house and charge their friends to rape her. This had been going on since Luisa was eight.
A word of caution: this topic is painful to talk about and the stories of victims hard to hear. I remember working in the emergency room many years ago as the only night nurse and a number of people involved in a bad highway accident came in, bloody and broken, and in more pain than I had ever seen in my 20 years of life. I sat paralyzed in one of the exam rooms and started sobbing. The wonderful attendant pulled me aside and told me to “pull it together.” He said those people needed me and this was not my time to fall apart. We got through the night and then he took me out for breakfast and talked soothingly about compassion and empathy and how necessary it was to compartmentalize—put our own feelings aside in order to do what was needed to care for others. His advice is particularly relevant here. Even if you never see a patient who has been trafficked, develop release valves to ease your own tension at reading this book. But do not lose your anger. Keep that and find a way to use it.