Frank and Kyle

I first met Frank at press briefing where he gave a brief testimony of what life was like for him as a slave aboard a Thai fishing vessel. A week later I presented a workshop on trauma informed care and self-care to the staff and peer leaders of the Labour Rights Protection Network (LPN) in Samut Sakhon where Frank was one of the attendees.

At the celebration BBQ that night, Frank demonstrated his command of the grill despite missing a couple fingers, and he came up to me to share more of his story. He said he was moved by what I talked about that day and wanted to share more of his story with me. At six years of age Frank was abandoned to relatives after his parents divorced and neither one wanted to take him. Then he shared further incidents of loss and trauma in his life. He was quite open and comfortable with what he shared but I noticed a peculiar pattern to his story – he kept talking in circles and the stories he shared sometimes seemed to have happened when he was a child and sometimes he repeated those stories and spoke as if they happened recently. He talked in perseverating circles, sharing the same things over and over again such that it was difficult to break in with a word or a question.

Later I learned that when Frank (now 35 years old) first arrived at LPN he could barely speak and was almost completely shut down. Now he is a peer leader and helps with tasks around the organization. He has come quite a long way, but it is clear that he still has a long way to go on his journey to complete restoration. 

The day after that workshop I met Kyle, a 10 year old Thai boy who recently came to live at the LPN house because he was severely neglected – his mom allowed LPN to take him to care for him. Kyle is the size of a 6 or 7 year old and has a painfully bent right wrist. It seems that his arm was forcefully broken by an adult several months ago but was never treated. Prior to that there is a history that Kyle spent several weeks in a hospital, including some days in the ICU due to injuries and infections. His mother is a sex worker and his father is an off-shore fisherman. He doesn’t go to school and was picked up by LPN and now goes to a special school for migrant children to catch up. I don’t know much more about his history beyond that but I know that this child has suffered so much already!


The future of prevention

As I observed Kyle smiling and playing with a couple other kids, it is remarkable how resilient children can be, but I also know that he is and will continue to pay a price for the traumatic experiences he has already suffered.

Consider Frank who suffered similar abandonment and other adverse childhood experiences and wound up, through no fault of his own, trafficked on a slave ship. The research on the long term effects of childhood adversity is staggering. Chronic trauma, especially in childhood, can leave indelible marks in one’s neural pathways that stunts development, rational decision-making, leads one to form addictions, and causes physical health problems. I don’t know all the circumstances that led to Frank’s exploitation, but he his past made him more vulnerable to being trafficked than someone who had a more solid foundation growing up.

Boys are especially more vulnerable to developmental disorders as a result of trauma. What I want for Kyle and the many other kids like him is to find a place where he finds safety and belonging in order to develop in freedom. This will help prevent him from falling prey to traffickers and/or any other adverse health effects in the future.

It is clear that the number one public health problem in the world is child abuse and neglect. The prevention of human trafficking involves many different pathways – one of them is allowing kids to grow in health and freedom, to give them every opportunity to thrive. When we prevent child abuse and neglect, we can prevent human trafficking by reducing vulnerabilities. Check out this school district that has adopted trauma-informed care into their alternative school and what a difference it is making.  

What are we doing about it?

Relentless conducts workshops on trauma, trauma-informed care, and how trauma impacts the various other presenting problems such as sleep, abdominal pain, deliberate self-harm, suicidality, memory problems and of course other psychiatric disorders.

When care-givers can understand the foundation of trauma and that the sometimes difficult behaviors of trafficking survivors arising from their traumatic experiences, more effective healing approaches can be employed.

For more about trauma-informed care and if you are interested in having Relentless give a workshop to your organizations, please contact us!