One thing nurses need to learn early in their careers is how to compartmentalize the emotional reactions we feel as we work with people who suffer. If we break down while listening to their stories, we are not much use to them. The traumatic events experienced by survivors of sex trafficking are not unlike the experiences of victims of state-sanctioned torture. Injuries sustained during exploitation leave scars on the body and the spirit that can prevent the survivor from having any semblance of a happy life, unless practitioners understand the not only the culture of the patient but also that of the street or brothel.
Listening to survivor stories on a level that produces understanding is painful, and our own deeply buried fears and anxieties can bubble to the surface in unexpected ways, requiring constant efforts to stay focused on the person. As an experienced therapist, I thought I had a handle on being compassionate yet effective, but as I spoke with more survivors for the book during the past year and read the poignant stories from women who were brave enough to publish their accounts, I found myself ruminating. What was most chilling was the dissociated way in which many survivors matter-of-factly reported the most horrific accounts of torture and degradation. I could read or listen with a certain amount of scientific detachment, but going home at night and putting work aside was not possible.
Fortunately, this book was not my effort alone and the wonderful contributors were a source of inspiration and comfort. Many experts have turned their attention to human trafficking and they are making a difference. Writing Sex Trafficking: A Clinical Guide for Nurses is my way of honoring the memory of all the clients I have worked with and all the women and children who are still trapped in a life with few escape routes. But knowing that so many experts in many disciplines are putting their talents and skills to work to help this most vulnerable population is an inspiration. Law enforcement attitudes are changing and police have new alternatives to detention. Prosecutors have better federal and state legislation to back up their lawsuits. Social workers are in the forefront of mental health intervention. Communities are rallying to provide systems of care in which all stakeholders mobilize resources to reduce demand and hold the traffickers accountable. Producing this book will make more nurses aware of the extent of human trafficking and what survivors have endured. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step in solving it. Now that the book is published, I can look back and say the year of nightmares was worth it.