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How to Build Trust with Survivors of Human Trafficking: A Personal and Professional Journey

I never thought the deep betrayal by someone I trusted could teach me something invaluable about helping others. But it did. When trust was shattered in my personal life, I felt a mix of shame and fear. I built walls around myself, promising never to be vulnerable again. If someone so close could betray me, then, surely, anyone could.

This personal experience gave me a profound insight into the feelings and challenges faced by survivors of human trafficking. For these individuals, betrayal isn’t just a one-time event; it’s a recurring nightmare. Each time their trust is broken, they're likely to feel increasingly wary of opening up again. When we step in to help, it’s crucial to understand that we can’t just expect their trust automatically. Trust is a sacred commodity that must be earned—especially from those who’ve been betrayed repeatedly. Here’s how I believe we can earn it:


1. Integrity

Say what you mean, and mean what you say. It’s simple but powerful. If you’re not sure you can deliver on a promise, don’t make it. Let your consistent actions demonstrate your reliability. Over time, this builds a solid foundation of trust.


2. Presence

Be there, truly there. Listen actively, observe closely, and respond thoughtfully. Engaging with survivors isn’t just about hearing their words—it’s about noticing their nonverbal cues and being sensitive to their feelings. This level of engagement creates a safe space where trust can start to grow.


3. Authenticity

Drop any mask and just be you. If you try to be someone you’re not, people can tell—especially those who’ve had to read intentions for their survival. Authenticity invites authenticity; it makes it safe for survivors to be themselves, which is crucial for genuine healing.

In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk writes that the first thing required to begin healing from trauma is a safe place. By being trustworthy and creating a safe environment, we set the stage for healing. Remember, trust builds slowly. It isn’t something we can rush or impose.


I've found that these principles really do make a difference in practice. Have you worked with similar principles in your own experiences? What strategies have you found effective in building trust, particularly in challenging situations? Share your thoughts and let’s discuss how we can all be better supporters for survivors.


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