Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse, trafficking
In this powerful blog, sex trafficking survivor Lisamarie Thomas shares her story of the path from victim to survivor, and her thoughts about how we can work together to protect all children from the horror of sexual abuse and trafficking.
Thoughts from a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and sex trafficking, a story of healing
Is there a difference between being a victim and a survivor? In my opinion, the answer would be yes. There is a main contributor, and that is power. Who has it? Would it be the person who was abused or the one responsible for their pain?
I have personally experienced the horrors of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. The most important thing that I've learned through healing is that you have to get through being a victim in order to become a survivor. It's a long healing process but where do we start? Do we begin at the latest trauma or do we get to the root of the problem? What exactly is the root of the problem and how can we stop our children from being steered down the same paths?
I realized that, as a child, going through sexual trauma started to shape the way I felt about myself and how I determined my worth. This affected the trust I had for the people closest to me and the love I had for myself. It was painful. I became unsure of myself and unsure about sex, love and relationships. My perception was distorted by those who trained me to believe that sexual abuse, exploitation and violence were acts of love and care. The outcome: as a young adult, I had no mental or physical defense against the predators of the world. Many times, I still ask myself:
There was the self blame. It riled its ugly head again and again and I always gave in. For years, I had been blaming myself for the abuse I endured, but why? How long had I been punishing myself? What was I punishing myself for? This was what I had to figure out. It has taken a lot of dedication and effort to be able to see my voice as strength and the experience as wisdom.
As we fight to end trafficking, there are two areas that have to be addressed head-on; in order to forge real progress and create permanent change that will protect our children.
The first area is victim rescue, resources, awareness and redirection. This area is one that our government pours millions of dollars into every year. This area embodies healing from the trauma that has ALREADY happened. This is being done in many ways by dedicated individuals and organizations around the country. A few examples of this include housing, cognitive therapy, group therapy, mentorship, survivor-led speaking engagements and retreats.
I applaud these efforts but there is another crucial initiative that is greatly overlooked; the second area of focus is preventing childhood sexual abuse. It is my belief that proper prevention education and communication are the tools that are most effective. We need to be talking to children about this, and we need to be making sure that all adults know how to spot the signs.
As a mother, I've been called overprotective. My daughter is 9 years old and has never been to a public school. I can read off a page full of reasons why I've chosen to homeschool but none of those would be the ultimate truth. I'll be honest, I'm afraid. The truth is, I'm not sure how long I can shelter her before she is exposed to the real world.
During the time I was being trafficked; my biggest fear was my daughter being victimized. Even at 5 years old. What if she was forced down the same path? What if she was sexually abused? How would I live with myself? I imagine that many parents share my viewpoint, but if you haven't lived through it, then it could be easier to pretend that "it wouldn't happen to my child." I understand how this idea could be comforting, but a much more brutal reality exists. The truth is, it could happen to any child.
So, can we work harder to prevent it? All of the changes going on in the world should force a more open discussion of these issues in our homes and schools. Why are we so afraid of it, and so afraid of talking to our children about it? I know from personal experience that childhood sexual abuse is a precursor to trafficking. If we can start a conversation with our children about sexual abuse, maybe we can prevent some of them from being trafficked. Programs that are put in place to stop these terrible things before they happen may lessen the number of children and young adults who become trafficking victims each year.
It is time now that we not only raise awareness of this growing issue, but we recognize that prevention is the most responsible step to be taken towards eradication. We owe this to all of our children, teenagers, and young men and women who are susceptible to falling victim to trafficking. They trust us with their lives, we must do this work!
being brave, we can save
the children by raising awareness about the most important dynamics of human
trafficking (the origins and the
outcome). This can be done by
embracing and empowering strong prevention programs that are available to us, like Revved
Up Kids, that fight to protect children from sexual abuse. An organization
like Revved Up Kids could have saved my life.
It's time to build a system that tackles the issue as a whole. Will you join the movement? Start small by following some of these organizations on your social media, or raising your hand to volunteer: Revved Up Kids, Safe House Project, Rescuing Hope, Street Grace, Wellspring Living, Out of Darkness
Lisamarie Thomas is an Author and Social Activist. Raised in Albany, Georgia, the 27 year-old is hailed by her literary works, Turned Out (2020) and When God Let Me Speak (2021). Both works are intimately written memoirs of her journey to survive childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. In under three years, Thomas became an entrepreneur when she wrote, designed and self-published her collection of books, including her first children's books: The Planet Findaway Series (2022), encouraging kids to practice self-love and confidence. Thomas has been featured on Fox 5 Atlanta and several podcasts, using her platform to help other survivors. Thomas is currently studying to hold a Bachelor's of Science degree in Information Technology from Southern New Hampshire University.