Mimi Nikkel, founder of Love’s Arm and herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and trafficking, understands that a whole host of forces keep women in prostitution
Factors that Make Escape Difficult
One of the first factors making escape from sex traffic difficult is that many young people have experienced debilitating trauma long before they were trafficked. “You hear about snatch-and-grab types of abductions,” Nikkel observes, “but these account for 11% of people who become trafficked.”
The overwhelming majority of women who end up being trafficked were already abused in childhood, she points out.. The perpetrators may have been relatives or neighborhood acquaintances.
Childhood abuse results in trauma that too often causes a young person to have a distorted sense of what is acceptable. Nikkel knows that first-hand. She cites a messed-up childhood as the major factor that led her to being trafficked.
Another factor that keeps women in prostitution is a criminal record. Their traffickers may force them to commit crimes. The result is they’re terrified of police and possible jail.
Interestingly, individuals who are arrested for prostitution are rarely arrested for sex crimes alone. More likely. their arrest comes about because of other crimes, many of which they didn’t commit willingly.
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Cases that Nikkel has either come across personally or knows of through her organization, include:
• Resisting arrest
• Felony drug offenses
• Motor vehicle offenses
• Car jacking
• Assault with a deadly weapon
• Domestic assault
• Criminal impersonation
Another reason keeping women stuck is the knowledge that, if they try to escape, they may be severely beaten. A woman may be afraid that if she doesn’t keep producing the income her trafficker’s business requires, or maybe she’s just not physically or emotionally able to continue, she’ll be thrown out and left for dead.
And then there is the tragic fact that a trafficked woman may be enduring something resembling Stockholm syndrome. The trafficker may have convinced her that “You can’t leave me. Where would you live? Who would provide you with food?” Traffickers know how to brainwash their victims.
What’s the Solution?
For something so complex, the solutions aren’t easy or certain. Love’s Arm is built on a holistic model of support for trafficked women that includes unconditional love, medical and psychological support, residency, help with judicial issues, and, most of all, a community.
Part of the approach is faith-based. “These women have been through hell,” says Nikkel, “and the way out of hell is through faith.”
Volunteers visit women in prison or write them letters. They visit the strip clubs and get to know the workers. They visit sex workers on the streets.
In the 17 years since Nikkel founded Love’s Arm to help other survivors of sexual abuse and prostitution, the organization has engaged with more than 800 women. At this writing about 162 have successfully transitioned out of a life of horror and fear to a life of promise and something approaching normalcy
Others have not, but Nikkel and Love’s Arm are still there for them. The organization isn’t solving the entire problem, but it’s making a difference. For Nikkel, the real solution is societal change, in which we teach all children that they are precious and valuable. And that sex shouldn’t be a commodity that’s for sale.