‘What do you want to be when you’re older?’ 

An astronaut, a doctor, a princess, a hairdresser, a firefighter, a footballer, a superhero, a vet… the options are endless when you are posed with that question as a child. Have you ever heard a child, when they are asked ‘what do you want to be when you’re older?’ respond with ‘a victim of sex trafficking’?  

A recent survey in Luton has offered insight into the detrimental impact of traumatic life experiences as a child, referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are “highly stressful, and potentially traumatic, events or situations that occur during childhood and/or adolescence. They can be a single event, or prolonged threats to, and breaches of, the young person’s safety, security, trust or bodily integrity.” (Young Minds, 2018). Examples of ACEs: 

  • Physical abuse 
  • Sexual Abuse 
  • Emotional Abuse 
  • Living with someone who abuses drugs 
  • Living with someone who abuses alcohol 
  • Exposure to domestic violence 
  • Living with someone who has gone to prison 
  • Living with someone with serious mental illness 
  • Losing a parent through divorce, death or abandonment 

The recent survey in Luton endeavoured to understand the experiences of women who were currently surviving or who have previously survived sex trafficking.  All of the women consulted for the Luton study had experienced at least 4 or more ACEs. The report shows that 100% of the women who participated were victims of child sexual abuse/child sexual exploitation, and 100% of them had experienced the loss of a close family member. Many of the survivors experienced domestic abuse from a family member and became pregnant before the age of 16.  

Statistics from the survey: 

  • 85% of survivors were subject to child sexual exploitation 
  • 60% of survivors lived with someone that had been in prison  
  • 85-92% of survivors suffered from mental and/or physical abuse  
  • 54% of survivors lived with someone that was using drugs  
  • 85% of survivors lived with someone that was a heavy drinker  

There is no genetic pre-disposition to becoming a sex trafficked person. The environment a person is born into and raised in can create vulnerabilities to sex trafficking. There are studies that show that the highest experiences of ACEs were more prevalent among youths who had human trafficking abuse reports (inc. sex trafficking). And sexual abuse/exploitation was the strongest predictor of human trafficking (inc. sex trafficking). This study concluded that sexual abuse/exploitation in connection with high ACE scores may serve as a key predictor for trafficking in young people (Reid JA, Baglivio MT, Piquero AR, Greenwald MA, Epps N. 2017 Feb). 

There is a clear evidenced correlation between children who are sexually abused/exploited and adult women who are subjected to sex trafficking.  

On a daily basis, Encompass guests share with team members about their life experiences, both recent and historic. Their experiences as children were that of nightmares, hard for many of us to begin to fathom. Unimaginably violent sexual abuse and exploitation starting from ages as young as 3 years old, which happened in their family homes, in the care system, in hospitals, in other institutions, places in which they should have been safe, protected from harm. These levels of sexual violence have then been sustained by new perpetrators throughout their lives, who have recognised and preyed on their vulnerabilities, taking advantage of them for their own personal gain.  

The Encompass team make a conscious effort to ask guests, ‘when you were a child, what did you want to be when you were older?’. Their answers are exactly as you would imagine: an astronaut, a doctor, a princess, a hairdresser, a firefighter, a footballer, a superhero, a vet… Not a single guest dreamed of or hoped to be sex trafficked. The team encourage the guests to aspire once again, to hope and dream for their future, to know that they are worthy and capable. Encompass is here to empower those who have been downtrodden their whole lives. Flourish exists to inspire and teach, to build safe and authentic community. Azalea works to walk in the opposite spirit of child sexual abuse and exploitation, adverse childhood experiences and sex trafficking.

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