A lot of people have reached out to me to ask about the new blockbuster movie release, “The Sound of Freedom". Many of them want to know if there is any truth to the movie. Some friends believe the movie is somewhat misleading. Full disclosure: I’ve read about the movie, but haven’t seen it. I encounter many sad realities in my work; and, I consciously choose not to immerse myself in them when I’m not working – it’s a form of self-protection from secondary trauma.
Now about the movie. From what I’ve read of the plot, I would never say that there is no truth to the movie. I have personally encountered women who were initially kidnapped and forced into Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE). However, I understand those who believe that the movie can be misleading. That is because, while I have met a few survivors of kidnapping and chains, most survivors of CSE have not experienced that specific situation. Viewers of the movie should not assume that a survivor is not a victim, because she was not kidnapped, etc. Many victims are brought into CSE by family members, including parents.
On the plus side of the movie, we at Dawn’s Place have been raising awareness about CSE since our founding. One blockbuster can be more effective at that, than all our presentations over the years. I’m happy that a lot of people are seeing this movie, and coming to understand the harms of CSE. But I’m also noticing some misunderstanding about role of Dawn’s Place in the battle against CSE. Many folks know that we offer therapy and care to women survivors of CSE. But they mistakenly conclude that Dawn’s Place has nothing to do with prevention, other than raising awareness. That is not correct.
Years ago, I had a conversation with my friend, Dr. Mary Anne Layden. She is the Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of PA. She has been working with women CSE survivors for decades. She told me that, after she had worked with these women for a number of years, she felt like someone had been throwing them into the river and she had been pulling them out one by one, and she wanted to go upstream to see who was throwing them in. At that point, she began to work with perpetrators of sexual violence. To her surprise, she encountered a number of what she called, “shared beliefs”. These are beliefs that both the women and the perpetrators hold in common. For instance, “You have to have sex to live” is a very common shared belief. If you think of it logically, if you must have sex to live, like you must have air to live, you have the right to take what you need.
Mary Anne makes it clear that the mental world in which these victims live is VERY different from the world outside of these shared beliefs. Sexual trauma recovery, like that at Dawn's Place, turns the world upside down and inside out for these women, and that is just the beginning of their healing.
I bring this up because, decades ago, I realized that CSE is a generational harm. If your mother holds the shared beliefs of a pimp, you are very likely, even at an early age, to be drawn into prostitution. Indeed, in the 80’s, a woman with an unusual last name had her many prostitution cases come across my desk multiple times. I did not know then that this woman had a baby daughter. In the early 2000’s, I encountered a young woman with the same unusual last name, also arrested for prostitution. It was the first woman’s daughter.
Years later, I was able to get the daughter to Dawn’s Place. The daughter’s baby will not grow up to be a victim. Dawn’s Place, as it was designed to do, broke the cycle of CSE for the daughter, and therefore, saved the granddaughter. The best kind of help against any evil sex trafficking, cancer, crime, etc. is prevention. With the help of our caring staff, donors, and volunteers, that’s what Dawn’s Place does quietly, persistently, and day by day.