Posted in Stories of Hope

Transactions of a different kind


-By Philip Stoneman

This past Christmas, as thousands of credit cards were swiped and presents bought, transactions of a different kind were taking place. As many  entered the brightly lit, music filled aisles of shopping malls, gazing in awe at all the goodies on offer; buyers lined the sordid dark passageways of the organized crime retail stores. Tinsel and tassels mingled with cheap perfume and cigarette smoke, expensive cognac and cocaine consumed as prices were haggled.

The price is pushed up, no Christmas discount here and a young girl still in her prime , is sold. The melodious sound of Ed Sheeran’s “Best part of me” and Maroon 5 “Memories” form a musical backdrop to the transaction. The young girl begins to forget the best part of who she is, a distant memory. She is sold to a middle aged prostitutor. Her soul, sold to a (devil?), is taken by force and injected with addiction. She is a no name brand to the seller – just a number, a commodity to be sold, resold and later discarded like an unwanted gift.

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Trafficking in Persons is the modern day equivalent of slavery,  but it doesn’t happen in some far off land or continent, it is a daily reality in South Africa. Transactions of people – girls, boys, someone’s sister, somebody’s daughter or son, takes place in our communities under our very eyes.  And while we were getting ready for our Christmas celebrations, the finishing touches to parcels of people were carefully completed.

So how widespread is the problem?

According to the National Freedom Network, the 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates 248,700 people live in conditions of modern slavery in South Africa. While FAAST (Faith Alliance Anti-Slavery and Trafficking ) reckon  an estimated 27 million people are enslaved. 

I could present all the different statistics from a number of sources to try and convince you that the situation is dire. It is dire; it is both bad and scary, but I want to appeal to your heart and present a picture of what these girls ( even boys) and young women go through. The stories I’m about to share are based on the experiences of two  young ladies who had been trafficked. (Naomi and Ruth – definitely not their real names! )

Naomi answered an advert for work. The opportunity sounded promising, she knew there was a possibility the work may affect her morals a bit, but she was ok with it – she needed the money. Everything seemed good at first, the interview went well and she was welcomed with open arms. She was treated like royalty. Picked up and chauffeured to her first residence, a palatial home. Within hours though, she was moved to a house  she would never have considered entering, let alone living in. Her senses dulled, possibly as a result of the drugged orange juice she had just drank,  she agreed. Then the nightmare began…

The assault, abuse and violence started almost immediately. She was told what to do, how to do it and with whom. Multiple transactions took place daily, and she was bought and sold repeatedly….six, seven or even 8 dozen times within the first week, and more the second week. The drugs pressed her further and deeper into this living nightmare, until somehow, by grace, she escaped. The damage done, she escaped physically but mentally and emotionally she was still held captive by the memories.

Ruth, thought she knew what she was getting into, but the manipulation, threat of violence and drug use ensnared her. As if caught in quicksand, she began to sink; tentacles reaching out and grabbing hold of her throat, arms and legs whilst slowly suffocating the life from her.

A downward spiral begins, with  moments of consciousness alternating with drug induced euphoria and paranoia. The tentacles replaced with iron shackles as the drug addiction takes hold. The pain of the memories, dulled and pushed back by the methamphetamines in her system. Her new Gaoler is alert and focused on keeping her captive, she won’t escape so easily from this jail. Solitary confinement for her is not a punishment, but her own personal choice. It helps her withdraw from others and from her true self. It helps her put up barriers and walls, and when the light of a rescuer shines into her dark self-inflicted cell of her soul, she withdraws into the shadows, scared of the light.  She is her own jailer with her own key to freedom, but she lacks the strength to turn the key to freedom. She is  held captive by her own pain.  The nightmare continues, but outside her jail cell her rescuer taps lightly, wanting to help.  It is her true self, but she doesn’t recognize herself. She needs outside help.

Each one of these girls, hurt in unimaginable ways, exploited and abused,  are representative of the thousands, even hundreds of thousand exploited and used by the human trafficking and organised crime syndicates.

Can they be rescued?  Yes, They can be, but many  rescued from their physical jails they find themselves in, remain psychologically captive. The task of rescuing trafficked victims from their own psychological and emotional imprisonment is a daunting and seemingly insurmountable task.

However, the journey of finding healing and restoration is  found not only  in a counselling or therapeutic session, but in care, support and encouragement from an understanding community.

Healing doesn’t only take place within the counselling session, but in the  context of “renewed connections”  where emotional safety is encouraged and trust rebuilt. That can only take place when society and communities become aware of and are educated about Trafficking in Persons and the long term emotional and psychosocial effects of human trafficking.

You and I can become a part of the solution and make a difference by knowing more and speaking out.

If you would like to know more about what is being done in South Africa or would like to help, please go visit the following websites:

National Freedom Network

National Freedom Network Members and Partners

Stop Trafficking

The Salvation Army :  Anti – Human Trafficking

If you, or someone  you know needs help :
Salvation Army Anti-Human Trafficking SA HELPINE
Toll free: 08000 RESCU (73728)

#Trafficking in Persons

Posted in Stories of Hope

Looking through the bathroom cupboard door


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I remember my father attacking my mom, as she was seated in a chair. He grabbed her by the throat. I screamed, shouted and tried to stop him. I couldn’t protect her. What made this incident worse is that she was disabled, crippled by polio as a teenager. As the oldest, I was supposed to do something. I couldn’t, because I was just a kid. but that moment was frozen in my subconscious and affected the rest of my life.It would affect the relationship with my own son. There were other memories of him coming home drunk and I (or we) would hide. Evenings, when I would be in my bed and pretend to be asleep.

Telling my story

It’s taken a long time to get to this place in my life where I feel comfortable sharing my story. Telling my story is therapeutic; it helps me relinquish the control my past has had over me. This lets me self-evaluate and find a sense of normalcy in these memories. Remember though, this is my story; based on my own memories, perceptions and a child-adults response to growing up in a volatile home.

I want to say an abusive home, but I cant; so volatile it is. Dysfunctional, alcohol induced, rage-filled volatility.That works for me. There were many times I remember where I loved and held my dad in high esteem; my hero. Memories of laughter, caring, supporting even but those are the ones I remember and want to remember. The memories I shut out are the ones of violence and anger and aggression.

I’m sharing this story because I’m beginning to recognize how its affecting my life today. I see now how my behaviour, actions, words, responses and ambitious drive find their roots in my volatile childhood.

Unfortunately, I’ve been able to recognize glimpses of my father in me. The good, the bad and the ugly (excuse the cliché)

Looking back at today

Moments of anxiety would bring out the worst in me. Triggers that grab hold of me. Tentacles reaching deep within and dragging out that 6 year old, 8, 10 and 12 year old boy…or at worse changing me into my dad!

Triggers bought on by my own son. “Why didn’t you clean your room” I would ask, a question preceded by the thoughts that my son is not being responsible or strong enough. Not realising  I’ve wandered back into that moment in our living room, I’d tell myself : “I cant stop him”… “I must stop him” or  “why am I so weak and irresponsible” and then project those same feelings onto my son.

I would look at myself, 35 years ago, and judge myself for doing nothing as my dad grabbed my moms throat. As he shouts in a rage, I shout at myself. Angry. Enraged.

I would shout and try to intervene, but couldn’t. What type of a son was I? What type of an older brother was I for not ever stopping him? I blamed myself, and became self-critical. Worse still, I developed a habit of always saying sorry; no matter the situation.

She was helpless. I mentioned earlier that she was disabled after contracting polio as a teenager. Polio rewarded her with a “gammy” leg. A leg she swept the floor with as she walked. I wanted to help the helpless.I wanted to help her. Her helplessness didn’t stop the rage, or the anger or anything else.

I realise today, that I was also helpless. My helplessness would lead to withdrawal. I’d withdraw from reality, disconnected and reconnect to an imaginative world. Perhaps that’s why my dad told me many years later after sharing my life dream with him, that I had “Illusions of Grandeur” I probably believed him and the lie, and deep within would sabotage my life so that he would be right, as always.

That moment of volatility in our living room, changed me and the way I saw myself.

Looking through the bathroom (cupboard) door

A child can hide away quite nicely under a bathroom basin, with the louvered doors closed. One can view the world through the slats…just the bathroom of course, but for a child, that’s his world. I have viewed my world through those louvered bathroom cupboard doors.

Moments, residing deep within the recesses of my soul, have been remembered and viewed through the slats of our bathroom cupboard doors under my bathroom basin. I am sure that many children have crawled into and underneath the dark bathroom sink. Its a great hiding place. A cavern explored by a childhood pioneer. A cavernous adventure. For me it was my safe place; cupboards, became my safe place. A place to hide and to seek solace and protection from the wrath. Perceived wrath or not, I never knew. As I look back, I realise I was never certain.

Looking back and examining these memories against the backdrop of my life today helps me recognize my three persona’s. Three different aspects to who I am. That boy 35 years ago ( yes, in my mind it is someone else.); my dad; a skewed caricature of him, and who I think I am supposed to be today.

Confusing isn’t it and a challenge. Quite a challenge not knowing “who” to be or how to act in different contexts.I would watch others, uncertain, and try to work out how to act or live life normally; trying to discern a normal way of ‘being’ I

Is this because of those moments of fear, helplessness and uncertainty? Growing up being uncertain of what word, action, behaviour, comment or omission would spark off a rage-filled episode? Being scared to do or say anything will definitely lead to a lifetime of confusion. On an even deeper level, that way of thinking and processing of life can become exhausting. It would prevent me from recognizing important and meaningful social signals. The confusion, or clouding of thoughts, would also help me hone the skill of reading a persons face and words spoken.      I would watch and observe him closely…

To protect myself, I would ask: “Is he in a good mood?” or “What should I do to prevent him getting angry?”

Recognizing this tendency helps me understand some of  the choices I’ve made over the years. Good decisions and bad decisions. Decisions that have not been safe ones, decisions that ensured I became a victim again perhaps…

Recognizing that these choices made over the years were as a result of  my volatile childhood is helping me. My childhood trauma experiences defined my adulthood decision making. Decisions or omissions that created an environment of addictions and bad decision-making. Procrastination and time wasting. Being too sensitive or aggressive posturing. Who I was; tended to attract further moments and situations of helplessness, fear and uncertainty. I would sabotage myself and my life.

My inner thoughts would be filled with a sense of dread that something bad will or could happen. I would believe I’m not good enough and remain uncertain of how to act or what to say around people. Socially, I’d either joke or be too serious but still uncertain. Always evaluating what to say, and when someone responds I’d say “sorry, not what I meant to say” I’d be scared of what people thought of me or what they’d say about or to me, and would always run from conflict; disconnecting from reality and life.

Perhaps its time to crawl out from under that dark space under the basin and to stop viewing the world through louvered doors. To view the world as it really is, as an adult certain of who he is.

Yes, I was a child victim, but today, I am more than a survivor because I choose to thrive*.

      – Philip Stoneman

* My story doesn’t end here, this is just the beginning. If my story resonated with you or if you have faced similar challenges and found hope or courage to come out from that dark place under the bathroom basin, please feel free to contact me at philip@traumasupportsa.co.za

Posted in Stories of Hope

Be Trauma Wise


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South Africans have over the years, experienced high levels of violent crime. The resulting aftermath is a population who need immediate access to support. Although this places additional pressure on services in communities, survivors are not always able to access help immediately post an incident. Effective Trauma Support provided to survivors on a scene may minimise the long-term effects of trauma.

Many South Africans, including Law Enforcement Personnel and Emergency Responders do not understand or acknowledge the effect a traumatic situation can have on a person’s emotions, thinking, behaviour, beliefs and relationships.

Understanding what traumatic stress is and how it effects a person will ensure support is offered in a non-threatening but encouraging manner.

Law Enforcement personnel need to be convinced that managing a victim in this manner may also improve their ability to investigate and respond to crime and thus increase successes.

Personnel can be trained efficiently and effectively whilst minimising logistical challenges using the TRAUMA WISE awareness model.

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The Trauma Wise model provides first responders with an understanding of the processes needed to be followed to assist a survivor without causing more harm. A first responder, already being on scene, can therefore assist until handing over to a Chaplain or Trauma Support Volunteer.

Trauma Wise identifies the following principles:

  • Building trust,
  • Ensuring safety,
  • Validating the incident,
  • Psychoeducation,
  • Restoring control and minimising helplessness
  • Providing emotional support where needed
  • Empowering a survivor by advising them of what may happen or what needs to happen

The four Trauma Wise steps emphasize these healing principles whilst ensuring an easy to remember process of what will assist survivors.

Used in partnership with the World Health Organization ‘s Psychological First AID (PFA) training, First Responders will have a complete toolkit to assist survivors in the South African context

Posted in Rape Crisis

Rape..Sexual Abuse? Men too…!


Please Go Support Matrix Men

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MatrixMen is a peer support group started by Martin Pelders, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. In his journey to recovery, he found that there was no professional avenue for assistance, and that it was a common reaction of many people believing that this type of abuse was not a big problem. Martin discovered that this was in fact a large problem in society and  a major contributor to his dysfunctional life.

Through his journey Martin realized that the best best treatment for Male survivors is intensive One-on-one therapy with a qualified counsellor, combined with Group therapy. Two things became clear to Martin : The first is that there was no support structure or place where he could find assistance, and the second was the practical realization that many of the people who needed assistance could not afford the specialized skills required.

MatrixMen is the first support group set up purely for male survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) and Adult Sexual Assault (ASA) in South Africa. Martin, is himself a survivor of sexual abuse, and trying to recover from the effects that sexual abuse had on his life. The negative social stigma attached to this subject, the cultural difficulties surrounding the discussion of this topic, the personal shame of the individuals, and the lack of any kind of support, prompted Martin to commit himself, early on in his recovery, to do all in his power to make it easier for other men to seek help and assistance in recovering from CSA.

One of the hardest aspects of Childhood Sexual Abuse(CSA) and Adult Sexual Abuse(ASA) is that we blame ourselves. The truth is that there was no way that you could have stopped the abuse. Paedophiles are cunning operators and pitting them against an innocent child is no match.
Men often feel that they should have been able to stop it or fight it off, they also often feel that they enjoyed it because their body had a natural reaction to physical stimulation. These factors only further confuse the victims.

People who would like to discuss any issues, or who require assistance, may contact Martin  Pelders directly here.

MatrixMen is currently run in Johannesburg only, but if you want assistance, contact us and we can give you guidance, support, and send you information. We provide assistance and guidance for the setting-up of support groups.
by Martin Pelders

Posted in Stories of Hope

Care of the wounded warrior


Who rescues the rescuer?

Who takes care of the wounded warrior

when the wounds are invisible?

 

Countless articles and blogs have been written about the effects of trauma and stress on first responders, so many that we become blasé about the effect of trauma and stress on Fire, Police and EMS Personnel. Each day, these men and women put on their uniform and pin their badge to their chest and go out into our communities to save us, to rescue us, to protect us. When their shift ends, they always remain vigilant, on duty – their #soulbadge remains pinned to their hearts.

But some get wounded because of their work –  long lasting deep emotional and psychological wounds carried around while fulfilling their duty.

The Xhosa people speak about a healing ceremony called Ukubula, a confessional telling of what you have done ( and seen)  before the community..”  The community’s role is to “tolerate the pain of listening, no matter how difficult. The community carries the burden and pain of what happened and the warrior is forgiven and healed from private suffering (Warrior’s Return: Restoring the Soul After War -Edward Tick)

Perhaps,  we need to offer our First Responders – our Police Officers, our Firemen and Paramedics an opportunity for Ukubula, by acknowledging their service and saying thank you – we support you.

This is a plea – a passionate plea for us as members of all the communities in and around South Africa to acknowledge our First Responders and to recognize the risks they face each day.

Posted in Stories of Hope

Online Safety – Reposted Article


Media Matters: Online Safe Spaces for Trauma Survivors: A Helpful Source of Social Support?

Posted 24 October 2016 in StressPoints by Charla Rhodes, BA

The ISTSS Blog : StressPoints

A safe space is a place in which individuals can find refuge and protection from insensitivity, discrimination, persecution, and other potentially negative experiences. Debate on the utility of safe spaces at universities grows more controversial as college campuses struggle to address the growing numbers of students calling for their presence. The University of Chicago took a strong stance when they penned a letter to the incoming freshman class stating that they do not support “trigger warnings and safe spaces.” Conversely, California State University at Los Angeles recently announced that it would offer “black-priority housing” as a response to Black Lives Matter protestors’ call for “a safe space to congregate, connect, and learn.” While the presence or absence of these spaces at universities is fiercely debated, the internet continues to thrive as a mecca of safe space groups.

An important component of trauma-informed care is creating a safe space. However, many trauma-exposed individuals do not initially seek treatment. With the widespread availability of the internet and potential anonymity, many individuals turn to online resources. There are thousands of different virtual safe spaces available online to trauma survivors. Some of these spaces are created on Facebook as “groups,” which can have as few as two members to as many as ten thousand. Each group has a guiding set of rules and principles and is oriented towards a specific group of people.

For example, there are many available groups for general “Survivors of Trauma,” as well as more specific groups created for “Female PTSD Survivors of Childhood Trauma,” “Survivors of Ecclesiastic Abuse,” and trauma survivors in specific geographic regions. Some of these groups are publically searchable, but many are not so as to protect the identities of the group participants.

Methods of joining and participating in a safe space vary depending on the platform. For example, on Facebook, an individual interested in participating in a given group requests to join and is accepted or rejected by a moderator. Once in a group, members have the ability to post topics for group discussion and participate in posts initiated by others. Members share news stories and articles relevant to their trauma, or share personal experiences. The specific group rules dictate the ways in which other members can respond. Members who do not adhere to the group rules, often by posting triggering material or making offensive comments, are removed by moderators and blocked from re-joining. In short, sense of safety is the priority.

Proponents of online safe spaces, especially those who actively utilize them, suggest that engagement in these groups can be vital for an individual’s mental health. In one study, participants who self-harmed reported that virtually connecting with others offered a sense of community and could be a valuable tool to get support and advice (Whitlock, Powers, & Eckenrode, 2006). In another study, online spaces served as a “sanctuary” for individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa (Gavin, Rodham, & Poyer, 2008). Indeed, having a sense of community and social support has been shown to serve as a protective factor for veterans against psychopathology and community reintegration problems (Thomas & Bowie, 2016; Smith et al., 2016). Online spaces can serve as an accessible and effective community for trauma survivors.

However, safe spaces may not be adaptive for everyone and might even cause harm. For example, trauma exposure (i.e., child maltreatment) was a significant predictor of Internet addiction; PTSD symptoms served as a mediator in that relation (Hsieh et al, 2016). Spending excessive amounts of time online can function as a maladaptive coping mechanism or self-medicating behavior, comparable to other types of addiction (Hsieh et al, 2016).

Additionally, some online spaces aimed at survivors are anything but safe. Some researchers have noted that online forums may normalize dangerous coping strategies or discourage members from seeking professional services (Gavin, Rodman, & Poyer, 2008). For example, a plethora of pro-suicide and pro-nonsuicidal self-injury websites are easily accessible online. Many websites and chat rooms provide information on the pros and cons of various suicide and self-harm methods and often offer encouragement to readers to engage in described acts.

As safe spaces continue to grow and more people turn to electronic and virtual forms of support, ongoing research investigating the impact of participation in online safe spaces by trauma survivors is necessary. Despite the widespread utilization of safe spaces, there is very little research, particularly with trauma-exposed individuals, regarding the utility and efficacy. The clinical implications, particularly whether these online safe spaces should be championed or avoided, are also noteworthy, as we continue navigating uncharted territory of safe spaces.

About the Author

Charla Rhodes, BA, is a research technician at the Boston VA Healthcare system under the mentorship of Dr. Brett Litz. She graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with degrees in psychology and anthropology. She plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology and hopes to conduct community-level research with underserved populations.

References

Gavin, J., Rodham, K., & Poyer, H. (2008). The presentation of “pro-anorexia” in online group interactions. Qualitative Health Research, 18, 325-333.

Hsieh, Yi-Ping, et al. (2016). Associations between child maltreatment, PTSD, and internet addiction among Taiwanese students. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 209-214.

Smith, N. B., Mota, N., Tsai, J., Monteith, L., Harpaz-Rotem, I., Southwick, S. M., & Pietrzak, R. H. (2016). Nature and determinants of suicidal ideation among US veterans: Results from the national health and resilience in veterans study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 197, 66-73.

Thomas, V. & Bowie, S. (2016) Sense of Community: Is it a Protective Factor for Military Veterans? Journal of Social Service Research, 42, 313-331.

Whitlock, J., Powers, J., & Eckenrode, J. (2006). The virtual cutting edge: The Internet and adolescent self-injury. Developmental Psychology, 42, 407-417.

Posted in Stories of Hope

Repost -My Story of Survival: Battling PTSD


by P.K. Philips

“I’m no longer at the mercy of my PTSD, and I would not be here today had I not had the proper diagnosis and treatment. It’s never too late to seek help.”

My Story of Survival: Battling PTSD

It is a continuous challenge living with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I’ve suffered from it for most of my life. I can look back now and gently laugh at all the people who thought I had the perfect life. I was young, beautiful, and talented, but unbeknownst to them, I was terrorized by an undiagnosed debilitating mental illness.

Having been properly diagnosed with PTSD at age 35, I know that there is not one aspect of my life that has gone untouched by this mental illness. My PTSD was triggered by several traumas, including a childhood laced with physical, mental, and sexual abuse, as well as an attack at knifepoint that left me thinking I would die. I would never be the same after that attack. For me there was no safe place in the world, not even my home. I went to the police and filed a report. Rape counselors came to see me while I was in the hospital, but I declined their help, convinced that I didn’t need it. This would be the most damaging decision of my life.

For months after the attack, I couldn’t close my eyes without envisioning the face of my attacker. I suffered horrific flashbacks and nightmares. For four years after the attack I was unable to sleep alone in my house. I obsessively checked windows, doors, and locks. By age 17, I’d suffered my first panic attack. Soon I became unable to leave my apartment for weeks at a time, ending my modeling career abruptly. This just became a way of life. Years passed when I had few or no symptoms at all, and I led what I thought was a fairly normal life, just thinking I had a “panic problem.”
Then another traumatic event re-triggered the PTSD. It was as if the past had evaporated, and I was back in the place of my attack, only now I had uncontrollable thoughts of someone entering my house and harming my daughter. I saw violent images every time I closed my eyes. I lost all ability to concentrate or even complete simple tasks. Normally social, I stopped trying to make friends or get involved in my community. I often felt disoriented, forgetting where, or who, I was. I would panic on the freeway and became unable to drive, again ending a career. I felt as if I had completely lost my mind. For a time, I managed to keep it together on the outside, but then I became unable to leave my house again.

Around this time I was diagnosed with PTSD. I cannot express to you the enormous relief I felt when I discovered my condition was real and treatable. I felt safe for the first time in 32 years. Taking medication and undergoing behavioral therapy marked the turning point in my regaining control of my life. I’m rebuilding a satisfying career as an artist, and  I am enjoying my life. The world is new to me and not limited by the restrictive vision of anxiety. It amazes me to think back to what my life was like only a year ago, and just how far I’ve come.

For me there is no cure, no final healing. But there are things I can do to ensure that I never have to suffer as I did before being diagnosed with PTSD. I’m no longer at the mercy of my disorder and I would not be here today had I not had the proper diagnosis and treatment. The most important thing to know is that it’s never too late to seek help.