We have spent a lot of time this month talking about how trafficking can be seen in other things. Today we are going to check our motivations and call out one of the most damaging, unhealthy aspects within the trafficking movement.
When we use words like ‘rescue’ ‘restore’ ‘save’ etc. we create and perpetuate an unhealthy relationship of savior and victim. It invokes images of someone who is powerless and needs someone else to crash down the wall and rescue them. It implies those involved do not have the willpower or ability to leave on their own. It sets up this exploitative idea that we can somehow save someone else. It conjures up connections with the bad fairy tale messages where the damsel in distress is helpless without her savior prince. If we start from this viewpoint everything else is we do is skewed to this perception. We end up doing more harm than good when we get our role in other people’s lives this off-kilter.
If there is one thing the trafficking movement does not need it is saviors.
When we come alongside those who have been abused, exploited, hurt, taken advantage of, etc. and ask permission to enter into their stories, we become more of a helpmeet (a helpful partner), who is there for the good and bad as the person needs us to be. It shifts control back to the person affected and puts us in a humble, servant position.
When we look at the process of healing for someone affected by violence, we have to be very in-tune with our motivations and preconceptions. We are not here to save anyone. There is one person who can do that fully - and we are not Him.
We can be there to listen, to care, to love, to model healthy relationships. Organizations can be there to provide for the tangible needs and create a safe space. But the process of processing and dealing with what happened must be led by the person who went through it.
The simple reality is that the process of deciding to leave an abusive situation, whether its trafficking, a violent relationship, etc. has to be made by the person involved. We cannot chose when the time is right. That decision has to come from the person living it. The choice of how to heal (and when) comes from the person too. The choice of whether to face what was done to them, the betrayal of trust, the prolonged abuse, why they stayed, etc. is a decision only the person affected can make.
What we can do is be a sounding board, a listening ear, and occasionally a guide. People coming out of trafficking have a long, hard road ahead of them. They need helpmeets to help educate them on what is normal in a relationship, in every day interactions, in dealings with the opposite sex. They need to process and own owning their bodies again. For some they don’t realize what happened to them was wrong. Coming in with humility and love and releasing control of the healing process is the best thing any of us can do.
When we try and put people on our agenda, with our goals for “success” as the basis for what we do, then we are playing God and can leave those affected more damaged in the process. They will try to meet our agenda and do not adequately process what they have been through.
There is a lovely poem by Oscar Romero that is the basis for a lot of what we do at LTHF. It is how we approach every program we start. It is a key message with our volunteers and staff. It is only once we come to realize and accept our proper place in others lives that we can fully engage and love people as we should.
Here is a portion of that poem:
That is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
It is a hard and difficult thing to look at motivations. We have to get beyond the simple desire ‘to do good’ and ‘help others’ to the real reason WHY we are helping. A lot of times we long to save others due to unresolved hurts in our own life. We want to control others and protect them and rescue them - even when these are not attitudes we want someone displaying in our life, with our pain. Why do we assume an attitude towards someone affected by violence that we do not want placed on ourselves?
It starts with language. Take time and actually reflect on how organizations and individuals talk about who they serve. Are they saviors? Or are they messengers? Are they playing God or do they realize their proper role in other people’s lives? Do they rescue and save or do they come alongside and let the person affected take the lead? How do they treat their clients? Do they put them on parade to make money or do they respect their humanity and dignity and hold their lives and stories as something remarkable and precious?
Then look at your response. Is volunteering with an organization about you or them? What are the emotions you get from the work you do? Why are you doing it?
Finally, and maybe this is really step 1: look back at your own life. For so many of us, we can provide the most out of our own scars and pain and where we have been. But that will only happen if we stop, surrender and process our own experiences. We cannot give what we do not have. So how can we become a helpmeet to someone else, walking alongside them through the process of healthy healing, eventually able to use their experience to become a helpmeet for others, when we have not taken the time to look our own past in the eye and say, “Enough!”?
It is a vital and continuing conversation. But as people who love and work alongside those affected by violence it is one we must have in an open, real and honest manner.