Not Without Hope: Step by Step Recovery for Trafficked Survivors
**By Judith Santiago
August 8, 2011—At the suggestion of an acquaintance, Nazani,* 16, left her remote village in Armenia and traveled to Yerevan, the capital, to earn good wages as a waitress. She was told she could stay at the residence of the acquaintance’s friend, a woman named Razmouhi*.
Nazani was eager to make the move not only for the extra money but because of a tumultuous relationship with her stepfather. But when she arrived at Razmouhi’s home she quickly realized there was no waitressing job. Nazani’s whole life changed immediately.
She was thrust into a world of prostitution, where she worked to cover the living expenses of her captor. Her debt increased daily. If she did not follow Razmouhi’s demands, Nazani was harshly beaten. The vicious cycle of ever-increasing debt and prostitution caused her to contemplate suicide.
Nazani’s story is similar to the tragic stories of more than 12 million people across the globe. Year after year, women, children, and men are caught in a dangerous world of corruption and deceit as they naively place their trust in strangers.
But, for those in Armenia who, like Nazani, arrive at a shelter for trafficked survivors that is supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the recovery process begins immediately.
“When a survivor of trafficking comes through UMCOR Armenia’s shelter doors, every person on staff is accountable and responsible for that individual’s recovery,” shares Liudmila Badalyan, staff psychologist for the shelter. She says that all staff, from the cook, the guard, and the driver, to the program staff, plays an integral part in a survivor’s healing and reintegration process.
Nazani arrived at the UMCOR shelter nearly two years ago. Her recovery is going extremely well. She expressed to UMCOR her thanks to the policeman who approached her on her darkest day and referred her to the UMCOR shelter—the only shelter in Armenia that offers trafficked survivors comprehensive, long-term reintegration services. Today, Nazani focuses on creating beautiful floral designs and is learning computer skills. These trainings will give her the skills to find both work and purpose in her life.
“I’m in a loving, caring environment now,” says Nazani. “I did not have that at home.”
Badalyan says that communication and relationship building are among the first steps toward recovery for survivors like Nazani. Upon arrival, trafficked survivors do not relate well with others, she says, because of their lack of trust. Survivors often test the waters with shelter staff to see if they are genuine and trustworthy. It’s the job of all of UMCOR’s staff to model good relationships and maintain a positive attitude. In this way, when survivors test staff, they will receive the same loving and caring response.
Program Officer, Izabella Simonyan, who has been serving the UMCOR shelter for seven years, says, “Giving survivors freedom of choice, respect, and kindness helps develop a relationship of trust.” Slowly, traumatized survivors learn they are in a safe environment and can let their guard down.
Working with survivors
Disasters affect individuals differently, so UMCOR’s approach to human trafficking survivors must also be individual. They may be sexually exploited; survivors of domestic violence or forced labor; or they may have been trafficked after leaving an orphanage.
Generally, Badalyan encourages survivors to share their experiences, a process that can take several weeks. Through group training and interactive exercises, survivors learn to engage with one another, build trust, and confront specific conflict situations by learning how to say no.
When the women begin to open up and share more in-depth experiences, Badalyan says her goal is to uncover the healthy and positive attributes of a survivor and encourage that portion of her personality or character during the healing process.
“Their masks didn’t protect them,” she says. “But, there is a person behind that mask who needs to be reached and loved.”
While it is clear that survivors are unable to forget their experiences, Badalyan helps them understand and accept the bad experience as something that happened to them, not something they deserved. The women are assured that good things will come into their lives, and this, she says, gives them hope.
Badalyan also stressed the importance of survivors being an active participant in their own recovery to heal. She says, “Survivors must believe that they can improve, as well as deserve a better life.”
Learn more about UMCOR Armenia’s Not Without Hope campaign that is helping to raise funds to keep the UMCOR Armenia shelter doors open, and to provide opportunities for survivors like Nazani to heal and recover from their tragic experiences. Please support Anti-Human Trafficking, UMCOR Advance #333615.
*Name has been changed
**Judith Santiago is the Media Communications Associate for UMCOR