Who am I? The identity challenge for sex trafficking victims

Guest post by Jesse Maley, founder of Out of the Life Inc., a Central Florida organization that helps women find freedom from the sex industry. OOTL provides counseling, therapy, career help, emergency services, housing, family reconciliation and justice system assistance.

One of the ways sex traffickers hold their victims captive is by taking away identification documents. Without their state ID’s, drivers licenses, social security cards and birth certificates, the victim does not have access food, clothing, housing or any other basic human need. Without identification they can’t register for school, get any kind of job, open a bank account or get an apartment.

The documents also allow the trafficker to get the victim’s food stamps, social security or disability payment and PIN numbers – things the trafficker will not give up.

As time in captivity continues, the victims are assigned “working names.”  These names are changed often and many victims claim that sometimes they had so many names they couldn’t keep them straight.  Their identities are as lost to them as their pride, confidence and self-respect.

All of this is happening right here in Florida.

In 2012, Out Of The Life Inc. helped many local victims reclaim their lives by:

  • Helping 20 survivors open new bank accounts
  • Providing job placement and career counseling for 22 women.
  • Enrolling three survivors of sex trafficking in local vocational schools
  • Helping 13 women pass their GED.
  • Providing housing for 13 young women who had nowhere else to go.
  • Assisting with re-entry services for more than 60 women who were in jail or prison
  • Providing too many bus passes to count so that these survivors have transportation to work and school.

Out of the Life helped this sex trafficking victim obtain housing, an ID, a bank account and a job. She is now working to become self-sufficient.

The most transformational experiences we have had were in the faces of the 130 women that we assisted in accessing one or more of their Identification Documents.  One young woman said it best when she opened not only her own birth certificate, but that of her 6-year-old daughter: “It’s like now I really exist!”

There a dozens of hurdles that service providers to victims of sex trafficking face when responding to a new case regardless of age or gender, but one of the most rewarding case management tools we can offer is the restoration of their identity documents.

Spread the word about human trafficking – let people know it is happening here in Florida and needs to be stopped. If you know of someone who may be a victim, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at (800) 962-2873.

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