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Survivors Coach Providers on Care with Compassion
Training supports and empowers youth survivors of exploitation through reproductive healthcare experiences

Young person smiling with hair blowing in the wind

For survivors of sexual violence and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), reproductive experiences can be fraught with trauma. This is particularly true for youth experiencing CSE when trying to access reproductive healthcare, during pregnancy, childbirth, and while parenting their child(ren).

Although service providers are well-positioned to identify and support youth survivors, too often they miss important signs or lack understanding of the unique challenges these youth face, and have little guidance on how to support young people through their reproductive experiences and parenting. 

To help bridge that disconnect, the National Center for Youth Law hosted a training featuring expertise and commentary from providers, survivors and many who identify as both. 

Supporting Survivors of CSE Through Reproductive Experiences,” held in June, featured a presentation from Eri Guajardo Johnson, a community educator and birth consultant for trauma survivors, as well as a panel discussion from some of the CSEC (Commercially Sexually Exploited Children) Action Team’s Advisory Board members. Board members shared details from their lived experiences and experience serving youth also impacted by CSE and offered recommendations on how survivors of CSE can be better supported through their reproductive experiences.

“In short, the folks you serve are the most likely to be traumatized, re-traumatized, triggered and overwhelmed during reproductive experiences,” Johnson said to the providers in the audience.

Supporting survivors

Johnson, founder of Birth Bruja, an educational platform devoted to intersectional, liberational and decolonial approaches to birth work, highlighted several common reproductive issues that CSE survivors face, as well as insight into why trauma survivors often avoid seeking care.

Reasons for avoiding care include fear of re-traumatization, distrust of medical providers, shame, concern about being harmed, worry over invasive procedures, and fear of being touched.

“A lot of us as survivors blame ourselves for having really normal and healthy responses to trauma,” Johnson said. “We use those experiences as reasons or examples of why we’re broken, or why we’re bad, etc.” 

Panelists shared how impactful a trained provider can be in giving a young person confidence to navigate an already complicated process. Showing compassion, treating a young person with humanity, and encouraging youth throughout the process can be life-changing for not only the young person, but generations that follow them. 

"Just the impact that words can have, and affirmation can have, on a youth who is stepping into parenting — especially when they haven't had an example — is so, so powerful," said Alia DeWees, a member of the CSEC Advisory Board and a director with Safe House Project.

Johnson recommended that providers who work with youth:

  • Help build and fortify a system of people who support the survivor mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally;
  • Become informed by learning about symptoms of abuse, care options, state laws, etc.;
  • Normalize survivors’ experiences, which can greatly reduce feelings of shame and guilt and can create a feeling of connectivity and upliftment; and
  • Support connection to survivors’ body autonomy by remaining diligent about asking for clear consent before touching their bodies and affirming their ability to care for themselves and navigate this transitional time successfully.

The panelists from the CSEC Action Team Advisory Board also shared strategies and insights from their own experiences and encouraged further discussion of these often private conversations.

Positive feedback

Those who attended the event found it to be extremely insightful and informative, according to feedback collected afterward. 

"I have been in the field since 2015 working with CSEC parents and never heard such a focus on the reproductive health and birthing process of our CSEC clients," wrote one attendee. "So so good!"

Another wrote: "Panelist[s] were great!! I appreciate their vulnerability, not easy to share, but I truly believe they are our best trainers. They give us so much insight and they are our best teachers."