In ‘the life’ – survive vs. suicide

As Human Trafficking Awareness Month comes to a close, I’d say there was a much larger presence of those focused on this issue and those others which can be the beginning steps to trafficking. I’d like to remind everyone that for those who have or are trying to survive the influence human trafficking has left on their sense of personal value and the survival behaviors learned while you are trapped.

Human beings, like other animals, adapt to their surroundings. Our inner most sense is that of survival itself. So let me ask this; ‘When you are so engulfed by constant explosive and almost deadly violence wouldn’t you become quite submissive to survive? How long do you think you could hang on? How bad would it be when you started praying for them to kill you and end your misery? You survive the best you possibly can, but if there is no sign of help or hope, you pray they kill you so you are free!!

This is the life you learn to endure and the behaviors of the human being will naturally adapt to keep you alive. Let me assure you; those who do survive rarely just walk the door of trafficking and live life like what is needed to adapt in ‘normal’ everyday neighborhoods. Without residential recovery services like those provided by Eden’s Glory & Grounds of Grace, among others; going from ‘The Life’ to a self sustaining life is usually filled with a path of addiction, mental illness, extreme emotional distress, lack on interpersonal skills, and a continued submissive behavior (despite how hard we try to cover that up). There is rarely any money available from the trafficker to pay for services needed to help their victims, so this burden lies on the shoulders of those who want to help. These are usually provided by nonprofit services who need funding from you and I; they are struggling for funding to help create more functional and self supporting individuals. The end result of their services will change the lives of these persons and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

When you are trapped in this way of life, you learn to live in a ‘Survive vs Suicide’ mode of thinking. The pain becomes so bad physically and emotionally that you pray they kill you just to put you out of your misery. You hope for a way out and if you run into the arms of another person, you are extremely lucky if that is a kind person who truly wants to keep you safe and learn how to live on your own. More common than not you end of up going straight to the arms of another abuser, usually a domestic relationship that starts off being really kind and your survival habits make you more tolerable of acts of control or degrading remarks. These are dismissed and before you know it, one day they take a swing. The first strike is always the most difficult one, so the second will be much easier and more aggressive. This will take over your relationship and become your existence at least two or three times a week. Your holidays will be taken over by the threat or possibility of violence. You will rarely defend yourself and even less likely to leave because of those few good moments you share. You tell yourself, ‘He does love me. He is good to me most of the time. He just gets angry. If I don’t do this, or I stop doing that, he will stop hitting me. Just so long as he doesn’t leave me alone, doesn’t kick me out, doesn’t cheat on me, doesn’t hurt my kids. This is the way of life for those who have been so violently and violated in the life of trafficking.

How is a person who has grown up in this type of threatening environment and distorted behaviors supposed to choose the right relationships or live a stable everyday life? How are they supposed to learn to associate in common social and professional environments? If we do not ensure funding for shelters and rebuilding services for young and old, victims of family violence, sexual harm, and trafficking, then we cannot just expect them to be self sufficient and become a member of the family, become a parent or a teacher, become a police officer or a social services caseworker without some turmoil and dysfunctional behavior.

Now believe me it is possible for those who have gone through this tragic way of life, especially as children or teens, and then become a parent without any support or family around to help them. We learn to isolate ourselves out of the heavy shame and disgust we carry for our past. We can’t just open our mouths and say; ‘I was forced to have sex with a lot of men from a very young age’. Do you have any idea the level of courage it takes to say these words? If it had happened to you, could you just sit down to dinner and say this to a mother in-law, or an uncle? Could you go see your priest one time and tell him these words? Could you go to a stranger, a doctor, or an employer trying to explain why you’re ill all the time or having so much trouble?

This is why it’s important for survivors of these types of traumatic events seek help. It’s why it’s important to find your voice and help others find their own light. It’s why we need the services of Violence Prevention Center, Hoyleton Youth & Family, DHS, SAVE, Call for Help, PAVE, The Women’s Center, RAINN, ChildHelp, NAASCA, and other leading local and national organizations. All of them continue to put their hearts into the mission of saving lives and rebuilding lives, healing generations every single day. I’m very proud today to say that now we also have Butterfly Dreams Alliance, an incredible team who have joined me in creating a prevention and rebuilding nonprofit service for families & professional education in Southern Illinois.

Today my life has come full circle. I am no longer trapped and praying for death. I am no longer contemplating survive vs suicide. I am 55 years old, I am in the best relationship of my life. I have three beautiful grown amazing children. I have three amazing grandchildren. I have made hundreds of inspiring and supportive friends across the country. We have fought to update and change policies & statutes together. We are creating more known knowledge about the human mind and the human heart in every survivor we encourage along the way.

Today my life is truly free and I am so thankful that I did not miss the dance it has given me. Please help those services in your area and across the country!!!

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The everyday beginning steps of Human Trafficking

Thank you #BrittanyJones; Channel 12 News, #KFVS  http://www.kfvs12.com/clip/14043071/march-to-end-human-trafficking-held-in-carbondale

#Torch – Shining a Light on Human Trafficking – SIU Carbondale

Think about that statement for a moment. We are here to ask our friends, neighbors, colleagues, resources, professionals, first responders, care givers, – absorb the power of this horrific statement. This isn’t just an offense busted by FBI  stings and plaguing other countries. This is what you and I see everyday, in communities where the same people do the same things day after day. The beginning steps are the common societal actions and behaviors we have been teaching are acceptable throughout human history. We may not know what the exact list from the experts tells us to look for, but more often than not those first beginning levels of what is and can become human trafficking, enslavement, forced servitude of another human being; regardless of what we want to admit or what we see in the welfare of another person, we need to care enough to intervene early and bring attention to the distress you see in your community. Only rarely do we have the occasion in small communities to be suddenly sold or exploited.

In modern day slavery we don’t just need our justice system ready to take on these offenders and put them away, we need to change our everyday way of thinking about what happens around us. The actions that happen to people we know, people we care about. Not just to our teens and children, but old and young, male and female. If we want any of our social care and justice systems to work, then we have a duty as everyday citizens to take accountability – report offenses that you DO recognize and make certain to do it early. If we do not have educators, medical professionals, law enforcement, neighbors, friends, even family ; those who are the ones most likely to see the signs of distress, then we can not expect to change the possible terrorizing acts which they might be trying to survive in everyday.

You – you are the person who will first see or recognize something that causes alarm.  You have a duty to intervene, to question that person’s welfare, and if you’re unsure take it to an advocate or make some Google searches to understand what signs you are seeing what what it is that might be turning your gut inside out every time you’re around it or see a possible lost soul on the streets, in our businesses, working on our farms, attending our schools, or even when they are coming in for basic mandatory physicals. It’s our time to watch out for the common daily signs of distress.

Understand that I absolutely know what it is like to go through days, weeks, years; waiting, hoping, praying someone would care enough to do something. Someone would believe that I mattered enough as a human being to at least question the multitude of acts and harms they did see almost daily for years. Believe me, I am just one of the millions of adult survivors of these types of daily horrors. When you are inside this type of environment and being dismissed or overlooked by everyone around you, it’s really difficult to believe that you have a voice to ask for help. Young kids, don’t have a clue how to put into words what’s happening until around 16 or so. All they can do is keep trying to get through each day. More often than not – THEIR SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON THEIR SILENCE!!

The common everyday things that happened to me were kind of accepted in Freeburg, just like it is in the rural communities I still see today.  It was just the way we raised our kids and took our rage out on our family. In most communities today, there is always one family the town talks about and judges. My family was that family!!!

There were years that instead of looking at how much they despised my stepfather and what they actually witnessed him doing on a regular basis. Instead of questioning what they witnessed my mother allowing to happen to her little girl, in the condition of her daily needs and care; instead people decided that I should be judged, I should be shamed. Both the adults and the schoolmates condemned and whispered about who I was and the things they heard. They kept their daughters away from our home and refused to let their sons date or hang out with me. In a small community just like what we see in our rural areas everyday; I was that child and teen girl who carried the reputation with boys and adult men by the time I was 13 years old.

It happened at the bar where my mother worked for years. It happened in the private parties with boys I went to school with and who saw me almost everyday. He would arrange it all at our home with a case of beer, giving me solid instructions on how to entice them, then tell him all the gory details when he returned home with my mother. This very known and discussed activity then became private parties late at night in our home, with sometimes 10 or more adult men from the local coalmine. My younger sister trying to sleep in the other room. My mother going in to watch TV in her bedroom; telling me to have a good time as she walked away when his call came in with instructions of what to wear, what to get prepared, even putting the porn movie in the VCR. This happened not because my mother was terrorized or forced to let it happen, but rather because she didn’t want to try and survive with three children on her own, and eventually because she didn’t mind using me as her family caretaker and housekeeper.

It wasn’t just chores we give our kids today. It was every single day and every moment of my day. It wasn’t just the occasional dusting or vacuuming. It was give her a toothbrush to scrub the corners and keep her here busy until I’m ready to send her to bed. Don’t give her a toothbrush or give a damn if she cares for herself at all.

The men got me drunk, the porn was on the television, they passed me around from lap to lap. They got me high, guiding me for this one do this or that one to do that. Around 3 or 4 am, I might be told to go out to the camper on the back of my stepfather’s pickup parked right in front of our house.

Keep in mind we lived in the center of this small town for six consecutive years when his violent reign of terror and the complete neglect of any human kindness was at it’s absolute worst. This type of exploitation, enslavement, sharing, trafficking happened between 11 to 17 before I escaped. He was at that time planning to put me in a trailer, on a private lot, with a new lock and his own private key so we could have ‘our’ parties anytime. I ran the first chance I got; ran into the arms of a man 7 yrs older who beat me, strangled me, almost drowned me, and left me hogtied in a bedroom for 10 hours, dead-bolted in a second floor apartment while he went to work and out for drinks. I’ve had more weapons held to my head than I can count, the first around age nine. Like many from violent homes I rant into the waiting arms of another violent abuser. All with the aide of what I was manipulated with as a child; years of weed and alcohol to cover up the pain. No matter the suffering I must act like I had always been taught; silent, submissive, even protective of my tormentor.

All of the interactions happened for the price of a case beer or perhaps just a couple of glasses at the bar. This was my value, this was the identity that every single person who witnessed the very worst of these offenses unknowingly or knowingly, helped create in just one young girl. Each had their part and in those so easily dismissed and accepted acts they trained a child to become a human being who lived ‘in servitude of others’ until I was about 45 years old.

The young servitude was taught as I grew up to be the only person in our home expected to answer the ring of that little brass bell for years. Constantly, every single day. No wonder my homework was barely done. No wonder I couldn’t concentrate or felt so different, so socially inept around everyone else. No wonder I could barely exist in your world. The only thing I could think about was how to survive the next damn thing that was going to happen.

During these years I was attacked almost daily.  It was so brutally dominating and fearful, that it wasn’t even safe to bathe or take any time to care for myself. For five years I barely took a washcloth to my face, let alone my body.. I was a kid who attended the same school system, walked around in the same small community, who associated with the same people everyday.  I was covered in filth, my front teeth rotted out and broken, my skin covered in sores; ugly infected rashes that have left me scarred and broken with many troubling health conditions today. They saw years of physical violence; bruises across my back and legs from the leather belt he had sliced up to beat me with. Once I got that beating for putting on a pair of my brother’s button up flannel pajamas because I thought they might protect me from him somehow; like a suit of magic armor he wouldn’t be able to touch me. Believe me, I didn’t dare put them on ever again.

So now I ask you; what types of distressful behaviors do you see happening or going on with one of the people or kids you interact with everyday. What do you see on the surface? What do you think might be happening beneath the surface to control that person in such a dominant and cruel fashion? Now let me ask – Why in the hell is it still happening today, everyday.? Not just here in Southern Illinois, but in every little rural and perceived safe community across the country. For thousands – this is everyday life happening in your backyards. There are enslaved, young and old, both male & female; these are the common early steps that become the larger tragedy of human trafficking. There are at risk kids in every apartment building, rich private home, or rundown trailer park. They are trying to endure until they can somehow find a way  to somehow escape and live like everybody else.

Let me remind you; You might be the only one who sees something, or is courageous enough to report something that might first bring attention to any form of those early controlling, neglectful, threatening, servitude acts that happen. We can’t expect our Social Service workers to just walk in and suddenly take action or investigate something, until we make absolutely certain we are reporting it. Take names and numbers, then follow up to make sure they’re doing their job and holding them accountable. Keep reporting and if they still want listen, discuss it with others who witness these acts or who might be able to help them.  Our leading research & health organizations have data on trauma which has been collected for the past ten years. The ones who are responsible for assisting and investigating are just as accountable for their actions and decisions, as you and I are accountable for what we tolerate and teach through our silence.

I beg you, I beg everyone across the country; it’s time to pick ourselves up by the boot-heels and create the society we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in. A society of equality, with true possibility that they can actually succeed in their dreams. To be courageous enough to dream and feel self worthiness. Teach them to believe they actually matter; their life actually matters to the most close knit circle around each and every one of us.

I really want to thank all of you for listening to me here, and the Women’s Center for permitting me to speak at this amazing event. Hopefully you’ll think about everything you’ve felt or heard here today; the empowering energy we have felt together. We really must begin somewhere and this change will take on whatever momentum for community and family wellness that we decide to put into it. We can honestly take accountability and decide whether we will or will not permit harmful and despicable acts among us as a society of incredible human beings. No one deserves this hell for a life. No one should be so easily, casually, or grudgingly dismissed within our communities and closest circles.

When you ask yourself what can I do about Modern Day Slavery, Exploitation, Servitude, Human Slavery, Human Trafficking; please remember to just do something. Look beneath the surface of what you do see. Be the one a shining light on the acts that destroy and cycle through what we see in the common everyday dysfunctions and behaviors that lead our children into danger, our streets filled with crime, a society using deadly drugs and addictions to cover up the pain, mental & physical health problems that might just be our remaining injuries and wounds from the traumas we endured; at least for the ones who actually survive. The ones who aren’t living so isolated and tormented they are driven to complete the acts of suicide, simply because they are suffering but no one is hearing their trapped voices and their rolling silent tears. If we want to be the beginning of a new way, an equal and humane way in our society, then when are we really going to start being the voice of hope and change? Are we going to decide to continue this massive cycle of life altering learned behaviors and distress of others?

Thank you, to everyone who has believed in my voice. You are now my energy and my hope, you are colleagues or resources I depend on to do the very best I can; will those reading this also join us? Today I’m finally starting to believe in my worthiness as a human being. Today I believe in my worthiness of life, without expectation of dominance and servitude.

Be well, Live Free & Really Dream Big because you are the minds and the hearts that will make any possibility of change a reality for the magic that lies within each and every human being on this amazing place called Earth. Always believe anything is possible with you in the active equation of life!!!

 

Trish McKnight

Survivor/Author/Advocate

Butterfly Dreams Alliance NFP

Breese, IL

 

https://butterflydreamsalliance.org/

https://www.facebook.com/butterflydreamsalliance/