A few days into our Red Light Green Light film tour a couple years ago, I injured my neck. I was bending over the sink to brush my teeth at our host’s house when suddenly I felt something shift in my spine, jamming my neck into an awkward sideways-tilt position. It was as if a metal rod had been wedged into my spine, completely immobilizing me with pain. My head weighed a thousand pounds, or so it seemed.
The week that followed was miserable. We were in the car for up to 8 hours a day driving from one screening to the next, and my neck screamed with every bump in the road. Since I couldn’t turn my head, I had to rotate my whole body during audience Q&A. I couldn’t sleep. After 7 days of agony and a trip to the chiropractor, the pain finally began to ease and mobility returned. But a few weeks later it happened again, this time while working on my laptop, and after that, while bending down to grab a shampoo bottle in the shower.
Fortunately, I’ve since learned some exercises and best practices to keep my neck from acting up. But I still feel it teetering on the edge sometimes, taunting me. It’s made me acutely aware of people who suffer from recurring injuries or chronic pain like arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and back pain to name a few.
When something goes wrong with my body, I feel frustrated, angry, scared, annoyed, and violated. But at least my pain is not the result of someone purposefully inflicting it.
When we were in Switzerland we met a young woman who had been trafficked and sold for sex. In addition to the psychological trauma she was still working through, she told us that she had gynaecological problems as a result of her exploitation. These issues would likely follow her through the rest of her life.
PHYSICAL HEALTH ISSUES AFFECTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIMS
- Sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, pelvic pain, rectal trauma and urinary difficulties from working in the sex industry
- Infertility from chronic untreated STI’s or botched abortions
- Broken bones
- Head and neck trauma
- Dermatological problems (ie. rashes)
- Infections or mutilations caused by unsanitary and dangerous medical procedures performed by the trafficker’s so-called “doctor”
- Chronic back, hearing, cardiovascular or respiratory problems from toiling in dangerous agriculture, sweatshop or construction conditions
- Weak eyes and other eye problems from working in dimly lit sweatshops
- Malnourishment and serious dental problems (especially with child trafficking victims who often suffer from stunted growth and poorly formed or rotted teeth)
- Respiratory issues (ie. from breathing chemicals or thread dust)
- Infectious diseases like tuberculosis
- Irritable bowel syndrome and other stress-related conditions
- Undetected or untreated diseases, like diabetes or cancer
- Bruises, scars and other signs of physical abuse and torture (sex trafficking victims are often beaten in areas that won’t damage their outward appearance, like their lower back)
- Substance abuse problems or addictions (either from being coerced into drug use by their traffickers or by turning to substance abuse to help cope with their circumstances)
List compiled from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the UNODC Anti-trafficking manual
Some of these physical traumas can heal over time but many become the unwanted chronic companions of survivors, reminding them daily of the abuse they endured. It’s as if injustice has an extended appendage that reaches into the freedom of survivors and drains it of its energy, its joy. But with community support, we can help take the edge off and support survivors as they take hold of their new lives.
If you’re a nurse, doctor, dentist, massage therapist, chiropractor, physiotherapist, dietician or other health care professional, contact your local victim aftercare organization and offer to volunteer. If you don’t work in healthcare but want to do something, consider starting a fund that will help pay for a survivor’s dental appointment, massage therapy, or some other service. Even one medical procedure can make a big difference.
Not only will you be part of healing physical wounds, but you’ll bring relief and encouragement to a weary soul.