Trafficking Survivor and Advocate Calls on Kentucky to Better Protect Victims
During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, The Courier-Journal published a powerful op-ed by artist, survivor and human trafficking advocate, Margeaux Gray. Margeaux calls on Kentucky to strengthen the state’s service infrastructure and better protect victims of trafficking.
Margeaux Gray | Kentucky can do more to help trafficking victims recover
When you are confronted by human trafficking, it’s likely the sensational story that grabs your attention: police raids, seedy men running distant crime rings and dramatic rescues. Society is understandably transfixed and horrified by the spectacle, and for those safely observing through the evening news, that’s where the story ends.
That exposure is critical because Americans need to know that trafficking occurs so they may one day recognize and stop it. But for each of the thousands of unnamed victims in those gripping stories — as well as those in the less public ones — the end of the crime is only the beginning of a long and difficult story.
My story is largely an invisible one. I was trafficked as a young child, right here in Kentucky. I was taken to private residences and hotels, then auctioned off to anyone willing to pay. Despite numerous unexplained, very grown-up health problems, no physician ever asked whether I was being abused. Not once. When I finally escaped at 18, the first nightmare ended.
I learned quickly that my own isolated horror would be difficult to move beyond. Consequently, I have struggled with an eating disorder, peripheral neuropathy, adrenal insufficiency and blindness — all derivative of the trauma of sexual and physical abuse. I have battled to put the suffering behind me. As a result, I’ve learned that a trafficking survivor is never 100 percent free until we rid ourselves completely of the trauma’s effects. That evolution doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without personal commitment as well as outside involvement.
You may not be aware that January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. I firmly believe that we survivors must advocate for ourselves on all fronts, and persevere until each victim gets the care they need. Kentucky has made progress in doing right. However, survivors are being failed and steps still need to be taken.
Kentuckians should be proud of the state’s recent strides to help child victims of human trafficking. In November, the legislature released its first mandated report on the issue. It highlighted that Kentucky has some of the strongest and most comprehensive “safe harbor” laws that ensure victims are not charged with prostitution or status offenses like truancy that result from their being trafficked. This is a huge step toward acknowledging that trafficking victims truly are victims deserving of compassion and services to help them get back on their feet.
Yet we are failing victims by not adequately providing those essential services. If it were not for art therapy and other psychological assistance I have received, I very likely would not have survived even after I escaped my trafficker. Every survivor deserves the same chance to be truly free. We need to make the right to psychological services a legal right.
Given the newness of Kentucky’s laws, the service infrastructure is still a work in progress and needs to be enhanced to specifically address the unique needs of child victims of human trafficking. I hope you will help me urge lawmakers to understand the complexity of a survivor’s healing process, and ensure our perspectives are involved as they develop those services.
At the federal level, the Congress just passed a 2014 spending bill that increases funding for anti-trafficking programs and victims services for the first time in a decade. This is good news, but we need to do even more to make sure all trafficking victims get the emergency and long-term services they need to recover.
This month especially, when confronted by the hard and uncomfortable reality that human trafficking exists right here at home, I hope you will consider the rest of the story — the one that doesn’t end with a “happy” sensational, rescue-type finale. I hope you will consider that the story only reaches its right conclusion when, after the rescue, victims are facilitated in restoring their mind, body and spirit.
Margeaux Gray, of Louisville, is an artist, student and anti-trafficking advocate.