Lessons Learned: Five Years of Serving Human Trafficking Survivors

Jan. 29, 2020

by Deborah Pembrook, Human Trafficking Outreach Manager

This year marks the fifth anniversary of Monterey County Rape Crisis Center providing direct services to human trafficking survivors. Since 2015, we have ensured that survivors of all forms of trafficking in Monterey County have access to advocacy, counseling and confidential support.

To be clear, MCRCC has served survivors of sexual assault who also experienced human trafficking since our inception. However, in the last five years, we have made the support of human trafficking survivors explicit. As an example of our commitment, we have expanded our mission statement to include all survivors of human trafficking in Monterey County.

In January, Deputy Director Lauren DaSilva and I spoke at the Monterey County Human Trafficking Symposium about the lessons learned over the last five years. As we prepared for our presentation, we knew we would be speaking to teachers, school administrators and social workers who cared deeply about trafficked youth, so we devoted much of our training to how to talk with young survivors.

Here is an excerpt of the guidelines we gave on speaking to survivors of human trafficking. Although our focus was on speaking to trafficking survivors, we also follow these guidelines when speaking with any trauma survivor.  

Be kind

Sadly, too often, teen trafficking survivors describe being criticized, blamed or repeatedly scolded by those who are offering help. Time and again, we have seen the people in a youth’s life change from criticism to deep compassion once they understand the complex array of traumas the youth has faced.

So here at MCRCC, we strive to always begin with compassion. It is not necessary to know anything about a survivor’s experience to know that every survivor of human trafficking deserves warmth, understanding and kindness.

Be passionate

We have a lot of work to do in our community. We could not have taken the steps we have as an agency without the devoted passion of our advocates and staff. It is only through our passion for survivors that we have been able to grow our human trafficking outreach, expand the numbers of survivors served and work collaboratively with community partners.

Be present

Human trafficking is a serious and severe trauma. Survivors need to know that the people standing with them are strong, clear and open. We know the path to staying with a survivor isn’t by shutting down or dissociating from the pain the survivor experienced. Staying present, despite the painful truth of what happened, helps us stay resilient to our own vicarious trauma. This helps us so that we can truly meet a survivor in the eye and show them that we see them.

Be real

As we prepared our presentation, Lauren spoke with several young survivors about what they wanted the community to know. One survivor asked us to tell everyone not to come to her with a clipboard. She has had enough of people engaging with their clipboard and not connecting with her.

Instead, she asked for our realness. If we connect with the person, we can show we are listening and that we understand.


Our commitment to human trafficking survivors is real, passionate and present. We are in the fight to end human trafficking and we are here to stay. As we move into the future, we look forward to continuing to learn from survivors and meet them where they are.