Myth: Being a victim of sex trafficking will force a child to “grow up” quickly.
Reality: A child is arrested in the stage of development in which the trauma occurred.
Child victims of trafficking have been exposed to horrors in life that most adults have never experienced, from drugs and poverty to violence and rape. However, this doesn’t mean that we should treat these young survivors as if they are adults. The trauma that these children have endured doesn’t make them mature more quickly. Instead, when trauma occurs in a child’s life, the child can stay emotionally frozen at the age in which he or she was abused.
Children are not as resilient as we might think that they are. In reality, they are extremely sensitive to trauma because it is internalized. Often the most difficult time for a sex trafficking victim is when they leave “the life”. This is because they are suddenly confronted with emotions they have repressed for months or even years.
On a neurological level, the brain can actually alter itself to cope with trauma. In the case of sexual assault, there are changes in the somatosensory cortex, which processes input to the body to create sensations and perceptions. A person that is abused actually has thinner areas of the brain that process the input from the genitals.
If someone that you know tells you that they have been sexual abused, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) has great tips on their website for how to respond. There can be a lot of shame associated with sexual assault, so it is important to acknowledge how brave the person is for sharing their story, to tell them that you believe them, that you are sorry that it happened, and that they are not alone. It is also helpful to offer continual support by avoiding judgement, checking in periodically, and knowing your resources. With these tips, we can all do our part to help loved ones who have been abused process through their experiences.