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National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: Supporting youth on their path to recovery

Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has reported more than 63,000 cases of human trafficking in the U.S.

In recognition of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in January, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health is joining other organizations in highlighting the importance of supporting survivors on their journey of hope and healing.

“Human trafficking is a global issue – it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” said Devereux Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical/Medical Officer Yolanda Graham, M.D. “Among the most vulnerable are youth who are in the foster care system, have run away from home, identify as LGBTQ, or face mental health or substance use challenges. We want to help these individuals recover from past trauma and abuse – and rebuild their lives.”

Protecting child survivors

In 2021, Shared Hope International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing an end to sex trafficking, issued its inaugural “Report Cards on Child and Youth Sex Trafficking” with 39 states and Washington, D.C., receiving failing grades. The report cards examined the protections being provided to survivors, and scored states in six key areas:

  • Criminal provisions: Clear criminal laws are needed to ensure all sex trafficking offenders can be held accountable.
  • Identification of, and response to, victims: State laws must identify all commercially exploited children as victims of trafficking and provide for a protective response.
  • Continuum of care: State laws must provide victims access to funded, trauma-informed services.
  • Access to justice for trafficking survivors: A range of civil and criminal justice remedies must be available for victims under the law.
  • Tools for a victim-centered criminal justice response: Criminal justice procedures for the benefit and protection of victims and witnesses must be provided under the law.
  • Prevention and training: Training must be required by law for child welfare, juvenile justice, law enforcement, prosecutors and school personnel, and prevention education must be required for students.

Access Shared Hope International’s reports cards to view scores from each state.

Devereux’s CSEC program

Devereux’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) residential program – offered in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas – includes both individual and group therapy to address the private traumas of youth, while also providing a sense of community and reducing feelings of isolation.

At Devereux Georgia, our CSEC program offers comprehensive treatment for individuals who have experienced emotional, physical, and sexual trauma and exploitation. Since 2011, approximately 140 children and adolescents from across the country have received CSEC services at this Devereux center.

“Most of the individuals enrolled in our CSEC program are young girls with a history of complex trauma,” explained Devereux Georgia Clinical Director Amy Waldron, LPC, BCBA. “We offer group therapy focused on helping youth understand their shared experience and support one another in their recovery and being safe going forward. Youth also meet one-on-one with a therapist to work through their specific trauma. We use Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, an evidence-based treatment to help individuals recover from trauma, as well as Dialectical Behavior Therapy to help them develop skills to manage intense emotions related to past trauma.

Waldron, who also serves on the management team of the Georgia Statewide CSEC Task Force through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and chairs the CSEC workgroup “Survivors Recovering and Thriving,” says sexually exploited youth often do not see themselves as “victims.”

“That is one of the biggest challenges we face in trying to help these youth recover,” Waldron shared. “The trauma bond, or emotional attachment, between youth and their exploiters is very powerful. A child may say, ‘Yes, he hurt me, but he also bought me new clothes and took me to get my hair done.’ We use Motivational Interviewing to ‘meet youth where they are’ and work through the process of change and creating safety for themselves. Our primary goal is to help youth return to their homes, schools and communities, and lead safe, healthy and happy lives free from any further trauma or exploitation.”

Learn more about Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

 

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