Recently, we took time to ask thoughtful questions of trafficking survivors in both Bangkok and Missouri, seeking to understand more about their lived experiences. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a time to shed light on the realities of human trafficking and exploitation. At NightLight, we deeply understand the intricacies of trafficking, but our core value of humility leads us to accept that we’re also always learning new things, including better ways to serve those who are being trafficked and exploited. We continually want to unravel the complexities of human trafficking and explore how we can work together to make a difference at each stage of a survivor’s journey.
We interact with women who are being trafficked and exploited daily. Before they’re ready to leave their situations, they need to know someone cares and that there’s real hope for them after exiting their situation. We asked about the best ways for us to be supportive at this stage, and the answer was clear:
“Be consistent. Inconsistencies take you right back to the horrible things you’ve gone through. What you want is for people to be consistent—to build trust through consistency.” - Missouri Survivor
Building trust means showing empathy, respect, and love – consistently.
A woman in Bangkok who was being trafficked over the Christmas season recently called us after a traumatic event. She has chosen to remain in her situation, but she explained “I just needed someone to tell.” While our hearts ache that she’s still being exploited, we’re hopeful that the trust being built with her through our willingness to listen will be an open door for her to exit sex trafficking soon.
Rescue is the inflection point when a victim decides to exit her situation and transitions to becoming a survivor. It’s a time filled with conflicting emotions: intense fear, cautious hope, anxiety, deep sadness as crisis mode fades and the trauma sets in, and flickers of joy that sometimes surprise them.
“If someone is just starting their healing journey, I would tell them that they are incredibly brave for taking this step. It may feel overwhelming at times, but remember that healing is a process that takes time. Be patient and kind to yourself along the way. Surround yourself with people who genuinely care about your well-being, and seek professional help if needed. Also, they should remember that healing is not linear. There will be ups and downs, but through it all you are strong and capable of healing. Keep believing in yourself and never give up.” - East African Survivor
Many women mentioned that one of their biggest barriers in moving toward freedom and healing is the ability to trust again. Their stories are often littered with people who have broken promises, used, manipulated, and abused them. Often, trust has been broken by people in helping professions in addition to personal relationships.
Intervention often takes time because it takes time to build trust. One survivor articulated her feelings by speaking to women who will follow in her footsteps someday:
“Dear sister! Recently I was in your place, in the same position of hopelessness. With a bunch of debts, without a passport, I was afraid to take a step forward into the future. I want to tell you that you are in the right place with reliable people! People who care about us without any benefit for themselves. You have never seen anything like this, and neither have I. Help them to help you! This is my best decision in life! I wish the same for you! Jesus loves you.” - Central Asian Survivor
Restoration is the phase of healing when the women we serve are being prepared to re-enter daily life, providing for themselves without being exploited again. When asked what helped her feel restored after exiting trafficking, an East African survivor shared the following:
“During my healing journey, I found hope in the support of an amazing safe space, family, and God. Their love and encouragement reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I also discovered hope through therapy sessions where I could openly express my emotions and work towards healing. Engaging in activities like painting, writing, and jewelry-making became a form of therapy for me, allowing me to express myself and find solace. These experiences, along with my own inner strength, have helped me hold onto hope and continue moving forward.”
One component of a woman’s healing journey is learning to experience joy and fullness of life once again. There can be profound impact in therapeutic activities and nurturing relationships during the healing process. Another essential component is developing confidence that they can provide for their own needs without falling prey to traffickers again:
“I was taught how to save money and use it properly. I was taught life skills and how to bake and make coffee. After learning the skills now, I can be independent and have my own company.” - East African Survivor
“The hardest part about not being in the game [in prostitution] anymore is trying to find the best way to make the most money the fastest. Tricking pays you, basic jobs can't compare. So learning my identity and walking in that freedom knowing that God is my provider and I don't need to worry about income. He will always meet me where I am.” - Missouri Survivor
These survivors’ journeys highlight the transformational impact of equipping survivors with a renewed identity, marketable skills for the workplace, and practical life skills. By teaching skills that range from money management to baking and coffee-making, NightLight helps eliminate barriers to independence and reduce vulnerabilities to re-exploitation. We can restore dignity to survivors as they gain knowledge and tools to support themselves and their families.
Making a Difference Holistically
At NightLight, we’re dedicated to supporting survivors on their healing journey. Through relational programs, therapeutic activities, and practical intervention, we illuminate the path to freedom and healing, helping survivors rediscover joy and reclaim their lives.
Since 2005, we have helped assist over 300 trafficked women in Thailand and over 50 in Missouri. Curious to read more about NightLight’s impact and how you can get involved? Check out our brand new 2023 annual report!