Excerpted from The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking (Bowley)
In order for us to be effective caregivers, mentors, and friends to girls recovering from sexual exploitation, we need patience. We also need an understanding of the psychological progressions they’re working through. James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente developed a model known as Stages of Change, which can be helpful for the caregiver on both of these counts. This model helps us detect when a young woman is ready to change, and it also reminds us that relapse is a natural part of the restoration process. Like a young child just learning how to walk, we need to serve each young woman in recovery according to her readiness to progress. Whether she is crawling, walking, or falling after taking a few steps, our role is to keep standing by her and supporting her at whatever stage she is in. The stages of change include:
Precontemplation: The girl in recovery acknowledges that there are problems in her life but resists the idea of change. For example, she might say, “He’s not my perpetrator, he’s my boyfriend.”
Contemplation: She realizes her need for escape but cannot see a realistic solution.
Preparation: She now recognizes she must make a change and begins planning alternatives to her current lifestyle.
Action: She begins taking steps to address the problem, sometimes on her own, such as getting into school or therapy.
Maintenance: She moves forward in her recovery and starts to feel successful.
Relapse: Something triggers a crisis that causes her to return to her old lifestyle. If she is in an environment that doesn’t support her newfound lifestyle, she tends to fall back into old patterns.
As we work to support and encourage these girls, it’s vital that we are realistic about the challenges they face as they move through these stages.