Location: Boston, USA
Name: Audrey Porter
Date of profile: December 2011
Intervention: Survivor Mentoring
Aim: To lessen isolation and give emotional support and guidance to girls exiting from sexual exploitation.
Background and Context
The My Life My Choice (MLMC) Project is a nationally recognised, ground‒breaking initiative designed to reach adolescent girls most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. The MLMC Project provides a continuum of prevention, victim identification and intervention services. It provides organisational training, prevention groups, case coordination and survivor mentoring to victims of exploitation.
Girls involved in sexual exploitation are often regarded as ‘hard-to-reach’. In some cases girls will feel shame due to their association with ‘the Life’, they may also show signs of trauma, and in some cases will display an on-going allegiance to the perpetrator. This makes it difficult for service providers to engage with and build trust with these young people.
To address this problem the MLMC Project developed the Survivor Mentoring service.
Survivor Mentoring Intervention
Survivor Mentoring pairs an adult woman who has survived commercial sexual exploitation in her adolescence, with a girl who has been identified as a victim of sexual exploitation.
The Survivor Mentor intervention has two main goals:
To stabilise a girl within the first 72 hours of identification by law enforcement or child protection services, thereby decreasing the likelihood that she will run away during this time
To provide extensive support and motivation to the young women over time, increasing the likelihood she will engage in services, including participation in a criminal prosecution against her offender when appropriate.
The Survivor Mentor provides one-to-one support and mentoring which may be weekly, biweekly or monthly, depending on the girl’s needs. Each meeting lasts between 1‒3 hours. Contact may occur with the mentee in a variety of settings depending on the girl’s circumstances, for example, in group care homes, juvenile justice facilities, foster care, in the family home or out in the community.
During the meetings the mentor provides the guidance and emotional support needed whilst encouraging the mentee to access support services. Another key element of this relationship is that the mentor acts as a constant support throughout a girl’s transition to a ‘normal’ life. As the mentors are survivors and have been able to move on and build new lives, they may also act as ‘role models’ to the young women demonstrating that there is hope and a way out.
Survivor Mentors are clinically trained by the MLMC director, Lisa Goldblatt Grace, LICSW and attend monthly meetings with another clinician, Beth Niernberg, who offers professional and clinical support for mentors. Additionally, mentors attend trainings offered by Justice Resource Institute, the MLMC parent organisation, including those on domestic violence, teen sexuality and health, rape crisis.
In 2011 MLMC implemented a new mentoring‒focused evaluation strategy to track the positive outcomes of a mentor/mentee relationship. This includes: trust building, developing self‒esteem and self‒worth, using a mentor to access other resources, and success in avoiding exploitation and harmful personal relationships. The most valued recognition, however, comes from the girls. An MLMC mentee says of her experience, “[My mentor] has been the person I have counted on as my support system, and if I had a problem I know that I could always go to her…She taught me how to love myself.”
Non‒discrimination and Individual Response
MLMC project follows the Justice Resource Institute non‒discrimination policy in all of its work.
An essential component of all the My Life My Choice programmes is the voice and experiences of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. Mentees are not directly involved in the design and/or evaluation of the mentoring initiative because they are not clinically trained to do so; however all MLMC mentors are adult survivors of child sexual exploitation who undergo training to be mentors, and their experience and input form the basis of the programme.
All information shared between a mentor and mentee is strictly confidential, with one exception: if a girl discloses that she is being hurt, or is planning to hurt someone else or herself, MLMC must report that to the police and appropriate authorities. Girls and their guardians know this at the start of the programme and are asked to sign an agreement stating that they know this is the case.
MLMC mentors never close cases; it is impossible for a girl to ‘age out’ of the programme, meaning that mentor relationships can last years, as long as the mentee wishes. At the time of referral, mentors often visit girls once a week or more frequently. As the relationship progresses and girls become more stable, this often decreases and is supplemented with regular contact via phone calls and texting. Additionally, part of the MLMC mentor’s aim is to connect their mentee with resources which often include therapy, education, substance abuse treatment programmes, and with other trained professionals who can support them over the course of their recovery.
MLMC is the only Survivor Mentoring programme in Massachusetts; its success is based on only employing adult survivors of child sexual exploitation as mentors because girls can relate to their stories and feel a sense of acceptance. Survivor Mentors use their personal stories to connect with girls and can often be successful in reaching victims that other service providers cannot. Similar survivor‒led programmes operate in New York (GEMS) and California (MISSSEY).
Through the MLMC mentoring work, we have learned how important it is for exploited girls to establish relationships with caring adults. MLMC has been nationally recognised for their skill in providing intervention and prevention services against exploitation. In 2011, MLMC is the only organisation in Massachusetts to employ this model, which fosters strong, caring relationships with adult women who have survived exploitation and empowers girls by changing their knowledge, attitudes, and skills. In 2006, MLMC was recognised by the United States Department of Justice as a national model for sex trafficking prevention. Rachel Lloyd, well‒known anti‒trafficking leader and founder of New York City GEMS project, describes MLMC as “the gold standard in prevention and mentoring programs for commercially sexually exploited and trafficked girls”. MLMCs work has been noted in Greater Boston, where organisations work closely with law enforcement to raise awareness of the issue and protect the rights of exploited girls. Additionally, MLMC gave a significant contribution to the Massachusetts Safe Harbor legislation, which will ensure that exploited minors in Massachusetts receive critical services, not time in prison.
In 2011 MLMC implemented a new mentoring‒focused evaluation strategy to track the positive outcomes of a mentor‒mentee relationship. The first evaluation report will be completed in early February 2012.