Personal Stories

I believe that one of the greatest ways that people can gain insight into topics that is “swept under the rug,” or hidden in the dark, is through personal testimony.  A personal testimony or significant story from someone’s life is what makes the biggest difference.  It is what separates true from false, light from dark, and exaggerations versus haunting realities.  Stories of trauma are real, gripping at life in the deepest way possible and examine a person’s darkest points in life.  Trauma has a universal dimension in the sense that all human have the capacity to experience and express fear, helplessness and horror, but trauma does not have one single definition.  Each person in their traumatic experience reactions differently and the possibilities of post-traumatic growth or resilience differ not just between cultures, but peoples.  Immediate reactions to trauma may be similar across the world, but culture may determine various reactions that may occur across time.

The psychological anguish that is experienced universally after trauma may be more related to an interference of the central morals or beliefs of the affected culture, community, or individual.  As a victim recounts their story often feelings of intense distress, sever physical reactions to reminders of the event, and even flashbacks can occur.  Pounding of the heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating, and nightmares are just a few of the things that can occur as a person re-experiences their trauma.

Here is an account from actress Emma Thompson that was a highlight of an article from Newsweek.  For most of her life she didn’t know that sex trafficking was happening in her very backyard in the United Kingdom.  It wasn’t until 2006 that she started working with a foundation that aids abused victims.  She shares the personal story of 19-year-old Elena.

 “When I was growing up in London, I walked past a massage parlor on the way to school every day. If my friends and I ever gave a thought to what went on behind its doors, we saw it as a bit of a giggle; it existed in a world away from our own.

Fast-forward 30 years to 2006, when I first met 19-year-old Elena through my work with the Helen Bamber Foundation, a U.K. charity that helps abuse victims. Elena’s story was all too common but had a huge impact on me.

An intelligent girl with ambitions, Elena had been enticed to London from Moldova with a promise of a good job and a bright future. Once in the U.K., however, her passport was taken from her and she was kept in solitary confinement to break her will. She was warned that her family in Moldova would suffer harm unless she did what she was told. And then she was put to work as a sex slave, servicing a procession of men in the most appalling circumstances.

What made her story so personal for me was where she’d been imprisoned: the same massage parlor I’d once treated as a joke. It underlined an awful truth: that human trafficking is not just a problem for other communities or other people. It exists on our own doorsteps, and our lack of action shames us all.

It’s hard to put an accurate figure on the full scale of this misery. But the International Labor Organization estimates that there are at least 2.5 million forced laborers who are victims of human trafficking at any one time. Their plight can be seen as the hidden side of globalization: a sickening business worth more than $30 billion a year.

It is a crime that scars every region and almost every country. Some 120 nations are routinely plundered by traffickers for their human raw materials, and more than 130 countries are known as destinations for their victims.

Like Elena, these victims may end up in the sex trade. Many others find themselves condemned as slave laborers, forced to work in domestic service, in hazardous factories or at grim sites like the cocoa plantations of West Africa. Thousands more, many just children, become unwilling conscripts in bitter wars. Nearly all suffer physical or sexual abuse, creating mental and physical scars they carry for the rest of their lives.

Above all, we have to keep our eyes open and not be afraid of letting our voices be heard. This is not a problem happening somewhere else. It is on all our own doorsteps.

Elena and many thousands of people like her need us to come to their aid. We can no longer keep walking past their door and ignore their cries for help.”


Adams, C. (2011). RE-TRAFFICKED VICTIMS: HOW A HUMAN RIGHTS APPROACH CAN STOP THE CYCLE OF             RE-VICTIMIZATION OF SEX TRAFFICKING VICTIMS. The George Washington International Law         Review, 43(1), 201-234. Retrieved from

Herman, J. (1997).  Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to            Political Terror.  New York, NY: Basic Books.

Resick, P. A. (2001).  Stress and Trauma. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.

Thompson, E. (2008, Mar 17). Slavery in our times. Newsweek, 151 Retrieved from