Sonja’s Escape

It was 2:00 am and I was leaving Ben Taub Hospital filled with peace and hope and in awe of the Lord’s deliverance. It’s the second hospital I’d been in that day. Earlier in the morning, I joined Methodist Hospital’s Community Awareness Campaign and learned about the link between human trafficking victims and healthcare providers. In fact, 80% of victims have seen a healthcare provider in the previous 6 months. Little did I know I’d be a part of one victim’s experience that very day.

While hosting a Rescue Houston booth at Methodist Hospital, I received a call alerting me that a victim of trafficking, Sonja, had been assaulted and needed medical attention. Immediately my colleague and I left Methodist to extract her and bring her to Ben Taub.

During her exit and the hospital in-take process, Sonja’s phone continuously lit up; several Johns (buyers of sex) and her pimp were trying to solicit her. The phone is a trafficking victims’ tether to her traffickers. Her phone emotionally and physically attaches her to everyone who uses her. I tried to gently persuade her to give us her phone so she could rest, yet she refused, frantic and anxious to hold on to her phone.

Wanting Sonja to have the freedom to make her own choices, and having helped her settle into her room, my colleague and I left Ben Taub around 8:00 that evening. Yet at 10:00 pm the ER nurse called to let me know that Sonja’s pimp was actively calling to find out where she was hiding. Without question we needed to get that phone out of her hands.

I called Sonja and told her I would love to get her a new working phone and a charger. If I could deliver on that, would she let me have her personal one? To my disbelief, she agreed.

After standing in the longest line in my life at Walmart for a new phone in the middle of the night, I finally arrived to Ben Taub to make the trade.

I walked in to find Sonja looking and acting like a completely different person. It was if the anticipation of releasing her phone ushered in hope. Instead of crying in the hospital bed, she had color in her face, was sitting up and ready to chat. At one point she didn’t hear what I said and politely asked “Pardon?” My mind was blown in disbelief.

We talked for a bit and she remarked that she couldn’t wait for her new life to begin, yet she couldn’t understand why we were helping her. And without any resistance, we switched phones.

To highlight how available we are for her, I had her call our number and test it out. Our colleague, Naomi, answered on the first ring and asked how she was doing. Knowing that we are reachable 24/7 brought her even more assurance.

As I was leaving, I saw the blue ribbon I had given her earlier still pinned to her hospital gown. It was from the morning’s panel at Methodist. When I gave it to her, I shared that it represented the darkness and trauma that’s inflicted on those like her in this city and that we are committed to their freedom and healing. Jokingly, I told her the pin looked much better on her than it did on me, and of course, she agreed. Now, walking out the hospital doors in the early hours of morning, I am so incredibly grateful to see Sonja cut ties with her past and begin healing.

Top 3 Ways an Occupational Therapist Helps

Take a moment to reflect upon your daily routine. It may start with waking up in morning, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving to the office, working, preparing supper, and finally going to sleep. These are all occupations–or activities–that give meaning and value to our life.

However, if something disrupts this daily routine, it can be difficult to concentrate and complete each activity successfully. Yet, chances are you have ways to roll with the disruptions. Maybe you take a moment to mediate or walk around the block. Or maybe you head to a coworkers office for a quick chat and laugh or listen to your favorite song.

Now imagine not having choices in your daily routine because someone manipulates every aspect of your life. Do you feel frustrated or confused? Now imagine you are free but feel lost because you have no idea how to manage your daily routine. Most trafficking survivors find themselves without the skills to manage regular day-to-day activities. Occupational therapy can help in three key ways.

1) Occupational Therapy Helps Process Anxiety:

You’re in Walmart and something sparks a memory of your time in the Life. You feel panicky and can barely breathe. You are frozen in place and can’t remember what you’re doing. What do you do?

It’s not uncommon for survivors of trauma to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.  When any of us are exposed to trauma our bodies stimulates a fight, flight, or freeze reaction in order to survive. However, this exposure impacts the way our nervous system processes our surrounding areas. After years of repeated trauma, a trafficking survivor’s sensory system has been overload with repeated stressful events, and are they are often left unable to process any minor stress or complication.

In order to increase a survivor’s ability to participate in meaningful routines and daily activities, I teach survivors how to regulate their emotions and control their behaviors with techniques such as deep breathing, utilizing deep pressure points, or listening to upbeat music.

2) Occupational Therapy Teaches a Survivor How to Complete Tasks:

Take a moment and think back  to when you learned important life skills such as preparing a meal, completing an exercise routine, or creating a financial budget. How old were you? Did someone help mentor you through these tasks? Many survivors were young when entering the Life thus, missing out on learning these necessary skills.

When joining our Emergency Assessment program, the women complete a checklist addressing the life skills that are important to them. Creating a schedule is one of the areas many of the women identify as a need, in which we (the case manager and I) will do our best to help the survivor learn how to prioritize daily tasks.

3) Occupational Therapy Helps Develop Hobbies:

When I ask the women what they enjoy doing for fun, the most popular answer is, “I don’t know.” I  begin to list activities such as painting, cooking, or playing board games, in which most women respond, “I have never done those things before,” or “I am not very good at those things.”

In order to receive a better understanding of what the women are interested in, I provide them with an interest activity checklist, which contains a number of popular hobbies. Then we try out all different kinds activities together in group sessions or one-on-one. We cook and eat a meal together, or paint, or make vision boards. Many of these activities not only help spark creative ideas, but can also be used as a calming mechanism.

By addressing the areas in the survivor’s life she experiences the most difficulty, occupational therapy can help the women become independent and successful with their daily activities in order to begin the next step in their journey.  My ultimate goal as an occupational therapy student is to help the women become independent and successful with their daily activities in order to begin the next step in their journey.  

Self Care is Not Selfish

When I became an Exit Strategist, I was told that self-care was extremely important. Loved ones close to me were very concerned because I often place work, family and others in front of my own needs. My mentality was always “If I take care of others surely the Lord will take care of me.” I failed to realize that I had to put in effort to take care of myself for the Lord to take care of me.

A few months ago, the hotline continuously rang and I received up to 10 exits a week. The calls kept coming and the stories I heard were extremely heavy. Normally, there would be a break between calls and I could bounce back, but now I could not keep up. I was pouring so much of myself into the hotline and self-care was not important at the time. I became empty very fast and saw myself spiral downhill quickly. I was no longer sleeping and my mental status was in danger. My family saw the shift in me and how I could hardly function. I no longer found joy in my work and my husband started to get very concerned for me.

My prayers quickly became a cry “Lord this is too much… I can’t anymore.” Yet, I would feel guilty for wanting to slow down and thought it would be selfish to speak up. “Taylor, you are helping victims how can you stop?”

One night, I was in my prayer closet debating if this was the job for me. Maybe I am not strong enough for this? I started to cry and really soak into the Lord when he gently said to me “Order.” I thought to myself order? Then it clicked…I was not living in God’s order but the order I thought was right.

As a person on the front-line of sex trafficking we talk about self-sacrifice as becoming more loving, more giving, more compassion and more faithful. But we can forget how important it is to take care of ourselves too. We think when someone needs our help God will value our “Yes” more than our “No” right? But if our “Yes” is empty and not our best than maybe it is better to say “No.”

When I give someone a gift, I pick out something special that will truly bless them not something that’s broken or used. When God called me to this ministry, He wanted my whole heart, soul, mind and strength. He’s calling me to offer my very person as a gift to these survivors. He isn’t suggesting I do a bunch of things for them. His message is for me to offer my whole self, a healthy Taylor, at my very best. That means taking care of myself.

I now realize how self-care is vital in this roll. I prioritize what is good for my Spirit, mind, family and then ministry. I thought it was being selfish, but came to understand that it is wisdom. I make sure my spirit is fed, my mind is at peace and my family is in order. Yes, my life is still hectic with two little boys and a light-hearted husband, but learning balance, order, and how important self-care is makes me able to give the survivors a whole, healthy Taylor.