Relationship-building with youth who have been commercially sexually exploited is no small task. In many cases, abuse, abandonment and betrayal have characterized their relationships with adults and created mistrust. Additionally, they may not see themselves as victims of exploitation or know how they want to move forward.
As advocates, you already have many of the skills you need to support youth who have been commercially sexually exploited. Building rapport with this population is a long-term commitment, so here are a few tips to fall back on along the way:
- Be patient and consistent
- When you first meet a survivor, they may not want the services you provide or be ready to leave "the life". It is unreasonable for us to expect youth to make life-changing choices on our timeline. Letting them know that you will be there, regardless of why or when, will help to establish that you are a reliable adult they can trust.
- Give them credit
- By the time they meet you, they have likely endured tremendous trauma, violence, and adversity. The fact that they have survived this can be a source of pride, so your rapport could be compromised if you treat them like victims who need to be rescued. Respect their decisions and perspectives, even when you may not agree or understand.
- Utilize open-ended questions
- that encourage the processing of feelings, experiences, and choices. Help them explore their ambivalence instead of trying to persuade them towards a certain course of action. If they aren't ready to share with you, give them an opportunity to ask you questions.
- Celebrate even the smallest of successes
- You may be one of the few people in their life that recognizes their strengths and qualities. Look for opportunities to provide positive encouragement, even if it is just saying that you are glad they called.
- Be yourself
- Youth know when you are faking, and it can impact your credibility. DO educate yourself about the dynamics and language of CSEC; DON'T misrepresent who you are and where you've been.
- Maintain appropriate boundaries.
- Make sure that the relationship you are building is healthy for both of you. Survivors should not depend on you to meet all of their needs, and you should not feel solely responsible for their well-being. Work with other community partners to develop a network of support for the survivor and yourself.