Human trafficking has three ingredients: a vulnerable person, an exploiter/trafficker, and a buyer. While this formula seems simple, the relationship dynamic between a vulnerable person and a trafficker is often not what you’d expect. Relationships are often how we hurt, but they can also be how we heal.
How We Hurt
When you think human trafficking, you may think of a trafficked person being held hostage, screaming for help. This may be some survivors’ stories. But we have found that the relationship between a trafficker and a trafficked person is often much more complex.
The women and teens we serve will often refer to their trafficker as “my boyfriend.” What is important to know is that in their eyes, this is exactly what he is. He is the person who listens, the one who provides, and the one who is promising her a better life.
Traffickers, most commonly male and sometimes even family members, use something called grooming to condition their victims. The grooming process includes a lot of coercion and manipulation. A trafficker will convince his victim that he loves her and wants a better life for her. He promises that the things she has to do with buyers is just ‘for now.’ He convinces her that in order to get this perfect life he is promising, she has to do these things for him first.
While her trafficker abuses her, gets her hooked on drugs, and sells her, he is also saying “I love you,” “I need you,” “Do this for me.” And a person who is desperate for love, for protection, for someone to really see them, will believe their trafficker. They will accept the definition of love that is presented to them, especially if they have never experienced the real thing.
How We Heal
At RAHAB, we know that these relationships are the source of the biggest hurt these women and children experience. So we turn the tide, offering healing relationships. We have two sayings that you might hear at any of our events and trainings. The first is “relationships are how we hurt and relationships are how we heal.” The second is “people are our programming.” Both speak to who we are as an organization.
At RAHAB, we are relationship builders. Staff and volunteers meet those we serve where they are and walk with them. We do not ask anything from them. We do not judge their life choices. Nor do we require them to break up with their “boyfriends” or traffickers before they receive anything from us.
What we do instead is offer them the real version of love. We demonstrate to them how they should be talked to, treated, and loved. We provide everything free of charge; no price tag, no expiration date, no pre-requisites. Just authentic love poured out for them.
By being steady and positive people in their life, we get to build trust with them. They look forward to being with us, and when they ask the question “Why are you doing this for me?” we get to tell them “Jesus.” We get to tell them they are loved, that they deserve more. And they just might believe us.
Life transformation happens in the midst of relationships. It is not just the contents of our outreach bags or the décor of our Drop-Ins that makes those we serve so eager to see us again. It is our people, the way they are treated, the relationships that develop in our community.
For more information about how we serve survivors, read more about our programming here.