You’re listening to the Survivors’ Summer Season of the Trafficking Dispatch, a special series that interviews human trafficking survivors and their family in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel.
We’ll hear from a survivor of child abuse and trafficking and how he uses his experiences and writing abilities to help others.
The finale of our second season featured an interview with Jerome Elam, a survivor of child sex trafficking. In that interview, Jerome emphasized the lack of attention and resources for male victims and survivors of sex trafficking. Unfortunately, he is not the only one to have experienced this. Our interviewee for this special episode, John King, is also a survivor of child sexual abuse and trafficking. He is originally from Australia, and you may have seen him on the show “The Doctors” or in the documentary “Stopping Traffick”. But in this interview, we will focus more on his written works, like #DealWithIt, and his anti-trafficking organization, Give Them a Voice Foundation.
Victoria: So John, my first question then actually deals with something that I saw in an interview that you did for The Doctors. You mentioned that you started writing poetry and the earliest poem that I found on your website was from 2013. So I just wanted to know: why did you choose to write poetry as opposed to other forms of written expression, and how has this played a role in your recovery process and the work that you currently do?
John: I don't think I chose to write poetry. I think poetry chose me. It was just something when I was trying to start and process what happened to me as a kid...when I had recall of the events back in 2008. I went from being a very linear, goal oriented, driven sort of guy to the opposite, really. Very creative, with the recall of the events. There was literally a change in the brain chemistry and my very disposition so I went from a, pretty much right brain to left brain. And, I just developed a passion for writing, a passion for writing poetry, and poetry just came to me like it never really had before. I might have been a creative writer but I'd never seen that as a medium, as a way for me to start to capture and try to articulate and process what happened to me as a child and also subsequently the other events that I wa having to deal with at that stage of my life. And as different things started to come back, and also recalled different events, I started to use the mediums of poetry and writing to try and capture those things, as a form of expression.
Victoria: Okay, so I like how you framed it as, you didn't necessarily choose it, but it kind of chose you or at least came to you. I also saw in another interview that you said you kind of, I think you said you posted your poems anonymously at first, and you started to get feedback.
John: Yes I did. I had very small children at the time, and they weren't at an age where I wanted to have a conversation with them about the details of what I went through as a child. So, I published the poetry anonymously. I think one site was Pinterest, and Pinterest went from 150 people to close to 50,000 people. And all of a sudden we started getting the feedback from these people on how to help them. From either guys that were coming forth and talking, and spouses were talking about how this was giving them help on how to identify and how to communicate, and really helping craft a language that they could share around some of these events that were very difficult to talk about otherwise.
Victoria: And so, were these people that were commenting, were they coming from similar situations, or was it just that it helped them in general with their own specific-but-different life circumstances?
John: Most of them have been through difficulties as a child, sexual abuse, but later on trafficking when that became a part of the conversation. There were people that were reading and identifying with the poetry and what I'd been through. And so it was like that, "Wow, I've never seen it put like that, that's exactly what it feels like!" And I think "Soiled" is one of those poems that really speaks to people and "Prayer for the Broken" about there being hope and possibility beyond the circumstance. And you know, the poetry even goes through a transition, a lot of the early stuff is very dark. It’s different from “No Working Title” and the stuff that’s on the website now, because I'm different. I think I find a lot of people who have gone through tragedies in their life, and they define themselves by their trauma, and I think that's a tragedy for people. They get stuck, and their identity becomes that of a victim. And their identity becomes what they had to overcome as a child instead of their identity becoming what their life holds for them, what the possibilities are, and the fact that there's a future beyond whatever they've been through.
Victoria: Yeah, I think those are all really good points that you bring up. So for you, a lot of what you experienced, it happened as a young child, from what I understand. And then you said later on in your life you kind of had this tipping point… I don't know if that's the right word, but, what was your recovery process from then to where you are now, just generally speaking?
John: Well, the abuse and what some would call trafficking happened between 4 and 16, and I had recall of the events in 2008. So I had suppressed it all until I had little things and little times that I would remember things. And then in 2008 everything sort of tied together, and that was the first time I saw it all and realized that all of these events happened and they didn't happen to someone else. And, you know I realized that I was abused as a kid.
Victoria: Yeah, I think that's a really good point to bring up, because one thing that I have heard from other survivors is that people will ask them, "well didn't you realize that this is happening to you? Didn't you recognize immediately? Why didn't you get out of this situation?" Um, but it's not always such a clear cut thing to people at first, and I’d imagine it’s even harder if you’re a child.
John: Well if you think about it, a five or six year old child, the people who are doing this to you have all of the authority and all the power. And it's a matter of personal survival for you. You can't break away from it. What are you going to do as a six year old? You don't even know that you can break away from it. So I figured that it's an unfair thing to say and -- people who have that mindset really don't understand the other side. If there comes a point of decision where you make those choices to break away, or you make those choices no longer to be a victim of those circumstances, but that's only a choice you can make as an adult. They're not choices you can do as a child when you're dependent for your very wellbeing on somebody else.
Victoria: Mhmm, and so what you said actually leads really well into the next question. So I also read on your website that you currently live in the US, but were raised in Australia. So I'm not too sure of what the situation is like in Australia, but I know that in the US the discussion of sex trafficking and a vast majority of our resources on the issue go toward helping women and girls. So what's the situation like for male victims and survivors in Australia, and how has the fact that you're a man, or at the time a boy, how has that impacted your recovery process?
John: So I'm based in the US now. There are no resources for men, or very few. We've done a lot of work over the last period of time and for the first time, the State Department actually acknowledged that -- 2017 Report on Human Trafficking that boys and men are not catered for and taken care of in terms of the government and resources. So that was great. It was really positive and very good to see all of those things come to pass. So people started to be aware that this is happening. When I first started to try and recover, it was very difficult because this was even ten years ago. Things change a lot in ten years. There were no support groups. I couldn't find any books even written on the sexual abuse of boys, and the impact well into manhood. So it was very difficult thing to try and get any sort of help for. And I really had to go about engineering and matricing my own recovery, trying to work out what to do, how to find common resources to identify things that were [inaudible] true, and how to address those things. So the funny thing is, statistically it's either 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls, or whatever it is -- once you get outside of America, the sexual abuse of children is about 50/50. In some countries, the abuse of boys is somewhere between 75-95%. It's much higher than the women. And in the Middle East in particular, Zimbabwe -- 75% of all boys experience sexual abuse. Even in New York City, 55% of all sex workers are male and have all experienced sexual abuse. But we've got this couple of things that happen that mean that our statistics are suppressed. I've simply come to terms with the fact that women are sexually abused -- and rights -- and we'll have those conversations. We haven't come to terms with the fact that it happens to boys. In 2010 I believe it was, there was a police report that the stats were clearly showing in this particular scene that sexual abuse of boys would have been the same rate. And the response from law enforcement at the time was, "Well, boys can just get over this stuff easier and better, that's why we don't have the same resources." And there's the whole mentality that boys and men like sex so therefore, they don't really suffer from it. And all of this is just rubbish, it's just not true. The impact on a man, I would say, nowadays, is greater than women. Not in terms of the impact on the trauma, but the fact that you can't talk about it. There's still a whole range of personal things that so many men have the challenge talking about this circumstance and situation. They're very reluctant to, which means they don't come forward, which means they suppress it. This leads to marital issues, suicide, mental health issues. And anyone who has been diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress, they wind up [talking] about what happened in their childhood. And we come across that a lot when we're dealing with people from the military. People go in there, especially in a lot of the elite forces, and they want to protect themselves and those that they love because they were abused. But when they come home, they've had all this trauma in war but they never discussed the root trauma which drove them, which was their childhood.
Victoria: Yeah, those statistics you were citing remind me of how we often have an exclusive approach when helping survivors. I think some people are afraid that if we start helping more men and boys then we’ll be ignoring women and girls, but with the right resources, being more inclusive would only help more people. You’re also breaking down that narrative that men are always the perpetrators and never the victims.
John: Yeah, and it does perpetuate a narrative, and that's the challenge of it. All of my abusers were female. Sexually, all my abusers were female. So, if that happened to me, know, it's happened to others. And I've spoken to so many men that were abused by females in their lives. And it's a bit like the Madonna complex, they don't want to believe that women would do this. Which is just a strange dichotomy for me. I very strongly believe that sexual abuse and human trafficking is not a gender rights issue, it's a human rights issue. And when we continually perpetuate these issues and the stigmas for [inaudible] agenda, concerning sexual abuse and human trafficking, then we really are doing ourselves a disservice in human terms.
Victoria: Because we're not really getting at the heart of the issue?
John: No we're not, which is the issue of the predator. Which is anyone with the ability to be able to manipulate and fulfill a sexual appetite at someone else's cost. And that is not a gender issue.
Victoria: Oh ok, so you’re saying it's a power imbalance issue.
John: Mhmm, yes.
Victoria: Okay. I saw on your website that you started Give Them a Voice Foundation to help kids who were in similar situations, and then also you recently published your book, #DealWithIt: Living Well with PTSD. Could you tell us more about Give Them A Voice Foundation, #DealWithIt, and then also, your work with Give Them a Voice, did that prompt you to write #DealWithIt, or were they separate projects for you?
John: Sure, Give Them A Voice really came out of the fact that I just got to thinking, there must be a million other men out there that don't have a voice. And I've found myself in those situations with the poetry and with the movie Stopping Traffick that I have a voice. So my thought was, I want to give a voice to him. And Give Them A Voice is a little different because we're not gender exclusive. Because I'm male and my experience is male, I have an emphasis -- I want to help men and boys have a voice. But that is not at the exclusion of women and girls. Whereas most of the other organizations are purely, and they will say very clearly, we're about the empowering and helping of women and girls -- children, women and girls, and somehow children and women and girls somehow seem to exclude boys which I don't understand. Because that's a part of, as we said, the narrative we've got going at the moment. And in fact, I'll work with any organization, but I'll only work if they're inclusive. If they are deal with just helping people, period with issues of sexual abuse and trafficking. What drove me to write #DealWithIt was when the trafficking movie, Stopping Traffick came out. I was traveling and doing a lot of stuff last year at all these screenings and filmings and people had seen the story up there. Often they'd meet me beforehand and I'd just shake hands and say hi and then, um, after the movie they couldn't believe that I was articulate, I wasn't crazy, I didn't have a hunched back or 4 eyes or something. So how come you're so normal? Literally they'd say that, "How come you're normal? Why aren't you crazy? You seem to have gone through this." So that's why I wrote #DealWithIt, is to try and show people that it is possible. Our pasts will either refine us or define us, and I've chosen to allow my past to refine me and make me a better man because of the experience. My past is my past, it is not my future. And I think anyone who's been through a traumatic experience, it's always a forward motion issue. You have to be moving forward to refine yourself and come to terms with things in terms of a new paradigm going forward.
Victoria: Hmmm...I actually hadn't even really planned on asking this, but what you said when people ask you, "Why are you so normal?" it just made me think: what is one thing you wish people just understood about survivors of trafficking, or any form of abuse?
John: I think if there's one thing I wish most people had done for me -- and I was thinking of my first marriage that broke down, and the challenges I had with particularly one of my kids -- is I wish they'd seen me try. Because everyday I was getting up, having a battle with demons, I had a visual recall of pornographic events 24/7 for the first three years. So I was sitting in the room having business meetings, and I would just be plunged back into homosexual orgies that I was taken to and things that were done to me and pornography that I'd seen. And it was totally overwhelming. So I didn't know what to do about that, and how to do that, and how to cope with that. And I was trying my best getting up each day battling trauma. And people just didn't see me try. And I was doing the best with what I had. And I know it was a difficult time for everybody involved, but it wasn't that I wasn't trying. And I think if people are in a relationship with someone who is having to deal with this, if they are genuinely trying, just see them do that. Because, I would say that most people don't want to stay there, and leave it. There are a high percentage of people who are defined by their past, as I've said, and that's unfortunate. And a lot of the stuff you see on the Facebooks and the social media. I can't believe the surge of people who have been I think the misconception is that someone who gets it wrong isn't trying. And I think it's more by the victim, is that they don't ever think that they can get better, which is just not the case.
Victoria: Thank you so much for bringing that to our attention, and in speaking of bringing things to our listeners attention, if one of our listeners wants to check out your work, where can they do that, and how can they contact you if they would like to?
John: Yeah, please, go to the website: drjohnaking.com and we've got sections on the poetry, for Give Them A Voice, and for posttraumatic stress recovery. And all of my social media platforms, Instagram are for @drjohnaking, Facebook or otherwise. You can get to those through the website. So, yeah, drop me an email through the website too. I'd love to connect with people, help them as best as I can.
John emphasized the role that writing, whether it’s poems or books, has played in his life, and how a lack of resources for survivors and societal perceptions of survivors drove him to write #DealWithIt. If you’re interested in reading the book, checking out the documentary John was featured in, or learning more about his organization, Give Them A Voice Foundation, we’ll include the links to all of those things in our shownotes.
And with that, we conclude the first iteration of our Survivors’ Summer Season. But don’t worry, we’ll be back for a third and regular season on August 19 at 5pm. Our website is currently inaccessible since we’re remodeling it, but you can expect it to be up and running again by the premiere of our third season. We have a lot of really cool things coming up, but I don’t want to spoil it just yet. But what I can tell you, is that if you or a group you are involved in are currently doing something, anything to fight human trafficking, be sure to send us a 30-second audio or video clip explaining what you’re doing. We’ll post the submissions we receive on our social media accounts and may just include yours in one of our episodes next season, sponsored by our partners, Youth Underground! You can send your clips to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we look forward to hearing about what you’re doing!
Finally, even though our next season will not premiere for about another month, The Trafficking Dispatch team has been planning a really exciting surprise for you all! If you check out our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages on August 5th, you’ll learn how you can win a bunch of really cool prizes -- fair trade, of course -- for our podcast’s first anniversary! The winner will be announced in the first episode of the third season, so be sure to keep checking our social media accounts, SoundCloud channel, and our website -- when it’s back up -- to see if you’re the lucky winner!
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our third season which will premiere on August 19th at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at email@example.com. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.
John King's website: www.drjohnaking.com
Stopping Traffic: stoppingtrafficfilm.com/