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Restoring the mind: Q&A with Collett Smart

In the last month during lockdown, we saw 45 children rescued from cybersex trafficking. One of the questions we received the most is: what happens to these children after they’re rescued? What is the process towards true freedom after experiencing so much trauma?

In our Just Moments series, Events & Marketing Coordinator, Olivia Neville, spoke to IJM Ambassador and child/adolescent psychologist, Collett Smart, about what restoration looks like for child survivors of cybersex trafficking.

Q: Who are you and what’s your connection with IJM? 

A: I’m a psychologist and a teacher. I’ve been a supporter of IJM for quite a few years. I do a lot of work in the area of helping parents understand the exposure of children to pornography, and as I feel our children are the next paying customers, we need to educate the next generation. I loved the work of IJM, as I had already attended a breakfast and fundraising dinner in Sydney, as well as completed some training on the work of IJM. I had become an Ambassador and wanted to see the work in Cebu.

Q: You visited IJM’s work in Cebu in 2018 – as a trained child and adolescent psychologist, what struck you the most about what you saw on the trip? 

A: I was completely undone when I met the social workers. You don’t know what you are going to walk into. My psychology radar was up, as I’m really aware of childhood trauma. I didn’t know what to expect from the rescue workers. They have to deal with the children and their families every day, but I was incredibly struck by the hope and joy in the team.

-from the law enforcement officers, rescuers, lawyers, and especially the social workers. I’m not an easily openly emotional person, because of my job (which requires me to keep my personal emotions in check at times) . but I just looked at these women (the social workers) and I was undone. The social workers are called ‘angels’. They are filled with hope and joy in the work that they do, as they know the restoration that comes with the reality of cybersex trafficking rescues.

Q: Given the nature of cybersex trafficking, what kind of trauma would the children be working through? 

A: Trauma in childhood comes from any kind of abusive situation where a child is trapped and they cannot get themselves out of it alone. Children depend on adults for safety, security, and love. However in the area of cybersex trafficking many children are being exploited by the very people they are supposed to be dependent on for trust, security and safety. The long-term effects of trauma cause them to struggle to trust, maintain relationships, and can lead to an increase in mental health issues, developing later in their lives.

However, because of IJM’s work this isn’t unresolved trauma, because IJM works hard to provide restoration. The research shows that when kids are rescued early on in their development, these children can avoid developing negative coping mechanisms, and instead of witnessing shame and blame, restoration is accomplished with the right intervention.

What can you tell us about healing? What gives you hope for their restoration? 

For full restoration to happen at its full capacity, you need to ensure that the client experiences safe boundaries for themselves, are being taught how to speak up, and learn how to build constant trust. From the very moment these children are rescued, these “angel” social workers have looked at every step of the process.

During rescue operations the children are the priority. The social workers have made sure that those children are psychologically and physically safe when they are pulled out of such dangerous situations. Children are protected from the beginning at rescue, to when IJM is gathering evidence to support their case, to when IJM are providing safe homes for restoration.

These children are given incredible communities where there’s extensive care taken to ensure they learn how to develop trust. Through the pure enjoyment of play and being children, they can learn through school and have fun. There was so much natural childhood development given back, which had been stolen from them. Thus, providing the foundations of childhood which includes; building a safe and constant trusting environment, relationships, and places – that is what leads to restoration.

What’s something our supporters might not know about this work that you would like to share with them today?

The main message I want to leave with everyone is that IJM is built on hope. IJM sees every child with dignity and worth. Everything they do is built on hope and actual work that is changing the reality of cybersex trafficking.

This post is based on Just Moments: Liv(e) with …, a series of Instagram Live conversations with experts, focusing on the role of aftercare for survivors of cybersex trafficking. Watch it here.

You can support important work like this by giving to IJM Australia’s Found to Free campaign by 30 June.

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