You’ve already read and heard the warnings about how social media can be used to exploit, stalk, and prey upon innocent people and how survivors use these same platforms to plan a safe exit. But how often do we think about social media as a place of healing and support for survivors?
For many survivors of commercial exploitation and trafficking, social media has been an integral part of their recovery process as well as a way to network and grow professionally. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Reddit, and YouTube have become positive avenues for survivors to learn, grow and connect with service providers and other survivors who share similar experiences.
Connections – Community – Support
The first time I ever met another trafficking survivor was at survivor leadership conference I attended almost a decade after I got out of my trafficking situation. Realizing there were others who had walked paths like mine, yet still thriving and making a difference was positively disruptive to my personal paradigm. The sense of solidarity gained that day as I witnessed their strength, confidence, and joy gave me hope for my future and newfound faith in the recovery process. It was a pivotal point in my journey where I learned to be proud of myself and uncover the dreams I had buried so long ago.
Now, social media allows survivors of trafficking the same transformative experience with the click of a mouse! In an instant, from the safety of their own home, survivors can discover those same feelings of solidarity and resilience by connecting with hundreds of other survivors through private online groups hosted on many social media platforms.
There was a time when seeking a support group required one to be physically present. This could create safety and privacy concerns for some while excluding others who may not have access to transportation, child care, or those who live in remote areas where these services simply don’t exist. But with the power of social media, it is a lot easier for survivors of trafficking to find support and inspiration from one another.
Tia’s story is another example. After fleeing from a violent marriage to a domestic violence shelter with her young child, Tia didn’t have a vehicle, childcare, or access to group or individual counseling services, but through a private Facebook group, she found out about a group Skype call available for those women seeking support from intensive sexual trauma. She recalls:
“I don’t know if I would have had the strength to not go back if I hadn’t had the support of that group when I was at the shelter.”
As we learned in Polaris’s report, trafficking intersects with a multitude of industries and impacts individuals from all demographics and walks of life. In Polaris’s survivor survey, 19% of survivors stated that social media played a role in their exit and 20 percent disclosed that they utilized private messages on social media apps to communicate with service providers during or towards the end of their trafficking.
But we cannot simply connect one human trafficking survivor to a service provider and expect that they are prepared to understand their experiences or meet their needs. Someone who was trafficked by a family member will have very different experiences than someone who was trafficked by a pimp. Private online support groups and message board threads offer space for individuals to engage in discussions and make disclosures at their own pace only when or if they feel comfortable doing so.
Growing professionally through social media
Savannah Sanders, a human trafficking survivor who now offers coaching services to trauma survivors looking to grow professionally says:
“Social media has had a huge impact in my life both personally and professionally. Finding [a] definition of human trafficking on Facebook helped me to reach out for help for the first time and jump-started my healing process. It has allowed me to build community and connect with people I would not have otherwise had the chance to connect with. It has also been a catalyst for me to break the cycle of poverty by giving me a platform to grow my business.”
She isn’t the only one utilizing social media platforms to grow their business. Many survivors working as independent consultants grow their networks and promote their work on social media accounts by sharing motivational and educational videos, blogs, and updates on the work they are doing. This connects them with a virtually unlimited and captivated audience of prospective clients and could help build the economic security needed to prevent any re-victimization.
As a human trafficking field expert, author, and keynote speaker, I would say about 15-20% of my contracts come from a connection made or maintained through LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.
There is something powerful about taking a tool like social media that has been used to victimize you and turning it into something that empowers you as a professional and as a leader.
This blog post is guest-authored by K.D. Roche, Human Trafficking Field Expert, Consultant, and Survivor.