You’re listening to Episode 40 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this episode, we’ll hear from a Canadian survivor of child sex trafficking.
This season, we discussed a lot of forms and aspects of human trafficking and slavery that are often overlooked, like organ trafficking, prison labor, and how some diplomats exploit their workers. We interviewed advocates, many of whom have worked directly with survivors of human trafficking. Now, it’s time for another interview with someone who has experienced human trafficking, in this case, sex trafficking, directly. Rayanne Irving, from Canada, was trafficked for sex as a child. If you want to hear more about her background, you can listen to her interviews with the Tangentially Speaking and Elsewhere podcasts, which we’ll include links to in the shownotes. But for our podcast, we’ll hear more about her current work and the psychological effects of trafficking.
Victoria: So Rayanne, I know that when we were first messaging back and forth, one thing that you mentioned you wanted to discuss, and this is a direct quote, you said you wanted to talk about "what happens to the body, mind, spirit connection as a result of trafficking and trauma and the long-lasting implications." Could elaborate on that?
Rayanne: Okay. So, we have what we call generational trauma, right? And generational trauma imprints itself on a cellular level in our bodies. So somatic cell memory is where we store triggers. And a trigger is something that is incapable of interception. So if we in the middle of, in my case, in the middle of being raped or in the middle of being beat up by your pimp, or in the middle of being attack by other pimps that are trying to steal you away, when that happens, your amygdala kicks in. And your amygdala is your fight or flight response. And it controls a lot of your reactions, and what it does is it suppresses your [INAUDIBLE], which is, you know, the frontal cortex of your brain. And it kind of closes down the ability to think and to work out variations and to problem solve, essentially. Amygdala also represses your memory, so your brain cannot pull up a memory to tell you whether or not something's okay. And it also cannot problem solve what's in front of it. It goes into fight, flight, fawn, or freeze. And it reacts in one of those ways in order to save your life. But at the same time, your amygdala is taking what I like to call polaroid pictures of what's going on around you and it stores it on a cellular level in your body. So a certain color, a certain sound, a certain smell, and of these things can be pulled up at a later date. So they're stored in your body, they're incapable of interception, they have no real emotion attached to it other than to tell you that at some point in your life, your very person was in threat of being killed or being hurt or something, and it's taking these snapshots to warn you that if something like this ever happens again, your body is going to save your life. So your amygdala jumps in, it shuts down your ability your ability think, it shuts down your memory so you can't think of it when this has happened, and it goes, "We've been in this situation before, this could kill you, you need to run. Or you need to fawn, or you need to freeze and submit," or you know, "You need to fight your way out of this." And most people don't understand that that is what PTSD is. That's a trigger. That's your body telling you that your life is being threatened. And so in certain situations, you could be walking along the road and these are the long-lasting effects, and you don't even know. Just all of a sudden, you go into a panic attack. But there's no reason for your panic attack. There's no reason for you to think that anything should be affecting you. You know, in my case, there were certain things that you used to come up for me like the ticking of a clock. The very ticking of a clock or a sweater. If I would go to pull my sweater off and it might hang up around my neck. That would cause concern for me. It's just certain, certain little things. So those are the effects of that can create and divide your attention, and divide your willingness where you want to connect with people, but there are so many people coming at you that you cannot. You feel like you have to put a wall up in order to save your sanity, in order to save yourself because your survival switching in your brain is telling you that if you open up to say, this person, this person might use your identity which could put you in a life or death situation and could hurt you in the long-term. And so disassociation is a really long-lasting effect of sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, or narcissistic behavior, is also another side effect. It can look like narcissistic behavior, but it's really deep survival switching and your brain trying to save your life. Does that make sense?
Victoria: Yes it does. And the fact that you were able to give us the scientific explanation for what goes on is extremely helpful in helping us all understand, so thank you so much for that. Aside from what you suggested discussing, I also did a little bit of research and was looking at your website. I saw something toward the bottom about a camp for at-risk youth, so that's still in progress, right? Has it actually been established?
Rayanne: Yeah, I just emailed to change all of that. I am now working at a place called Camino Ranch. I partnered with Camino Ranch Association, and we are essentially offering everything that I wanted to do with my camp, it's just, Christmas came up early for me! So, at Camino Ranch, it's a place to help at-risk youth, girls that are at risk for homelessness, girls that are at risk for exploitation, and they can come here and they can spend a year here, and they learn how to work with horses. They learn how to manage money and do accounting. They will learn how to cook for themselves, how to garden. They will learn how to interact with one another. They get to experience brain integration and applied physiology if they want to brave that. And they can find a place in which they can learn to feel safe enough with themselves that they can explore deeper into previous traumas and hopefully, eventually learn to work through them and build themselves and empower themselves so that they can move forward in their life. So yeah, so it's really cool. I partnered with a place called Camino Ranch Association and it's this incredible house. It's like walking into a dream come true. It's on five acres. It's a three-story house. Every girl has their own bedroom, it's completely furnished. There's horses and I think we're going to bring in some goats and some chickens. It's just a really beautiful place and I'm so privileged that I've been able to partner with Lorainne, the founder of it. I thought of the camp, but it turns out that I got so much more than that! So I am the Herd Manager and Lead Instructor at this place and I live on site, where I can be of service to the girls at any given point in time of the day if they might need someone to sit and talk to.
Victoria: Wow, well I'm so glad that that worked out for you! How did that connection with Camino Ranch Association first come about?
Rayanne: She posted on Facebook, a group advertisement that she was looking for someone to be a Herd Manager. And she talked a little bit about what she was doing with the place and the universe just put it in my path! And I replied to her message and we met, and we sat down. And you know what I discovered, and this is really exciting for me to be able to talk about, what I discovered is that she had all this love in her heart and all this willingness to put herself in a financial position to take on property of this magnitude and expense in order to help other young women. But what she didn't have was someone who had actually gone through it. So when I sat down and started to talk about the types of people that were going to come through her program, I started to discuss with her and ask her if she knew about behavioral conditioning, if she knew about epigenetics, if she knew about disassociation and the various experiences that these girls are going to have come from and then the therapies and self-exploration that they're going to have to partake in order to let go of that. And she didn't, but I did. And it was just right then and there, wow, we were each other what the other person had been looking for. She had the facility and the heart and I had the firsthand experience and the knowledge on self-healing and self-awareness. And it just came together in such a beautiful, symbiotic way. So it was really cool, but what it made me realize, is that stopping at this place has been great. We're working on Camino Ranch and we're combining all of our resources. It made me realize that there are a lot of organizations popping up all over the world right now that have all of the love in the world to give, they have all of the heart, but they lack the personal experience and the awareness. And there's a lot of mixed messages in the media. And so, it brought about my next project, which is a world summit. I'm partnered with Rasha, and we are working to create a world summit to create some of the top, educational speaking, scientific in their field, in order to open other organizations to the very few modalities that will better their programs that they're running, and just add to their tool chest. So coming into contact with Camino has just broadened my view on just how much more can really be done to help the people that are in need of it the most.
Victoria: That's so cool. I'm glad that all worked out and that it's set you on a path for other connections. I didn’t even know the summit was happening, so that's cool to learn about! I also saw on the website, you said something about, "Our program will focus on reverse culture shock," which I thought was interesting because I've heard the term used for when people study abroad and then come back to their home country. But I'm curious what "reverse culture shock" means in the context of human trafficking.
Rayanne: So there's a gene in the brain where, there's the old saying, "Your vibe determines your tribe" kind of idea. There's an imitation link in our brain where we mimic those around us and we basically assimilate. And so that rise up, rise up together and those that pulling down, if you stay with them, they will pull you down. And there is something when I was on the streets, it's called street culture. It's just an area that has cultivated its own language, its own interpretations, it has its own flavor, its own feeling. It carries with it, there's a very tangible, energetic taste that comes when you go to another country but also when you come into contact with other cultures. And street culture and prostitution and trafficking, it has its own language, it has its own vibe, it has its own taste. And you learn to adapt. Because if you don't adapt, then you will not survive it, right? And humans are, by way of the imitation gene, tribalism, we adapt to survive. So reverse culture shock is when you've been immersed in one culture for so long that when you leave and you come back home, everything is different and you see the world in a different way, and things that wouldn't have threatened you in the past are now threatening you and they threaten your sense of survival. And one of those things, when I got off the streets, for me, everybody was very uncomfortable with me. They were uncomfortable with the level of my experiences, my traumas, and they were also very incensed by my ability to laugh at what would be considered vulgar things. They were disturbed by my morbid sense of humor which was a coping mechanism. They didn't understand that I was no longer the same person, and so it's a shock when you begin to put up walls and boundaries. You close yourself off because you're coming back into contact with people who have no idea what it is -- they don't speak your language anymore. And you can understand snippets of their language, but you're not the same person and so it can be very hard. You know, I tried to go back to school when I got off the streets. I re-enrolled in high school and I couldn't relate, I couldn't connect with anybody. And I think that that's what I really think of reverse culture shock as. It's your inability to connect with the people around you because of your experiences. And I think that that's really hard to explain to people who have not been through trauma, who have not been held hostage, who have not been emotionally tortured. You know, people that have been trafficked, they live in fear for their life, yes, but they also adjust. So you have like a stage 1 stress, a stage 2 stress, a stage 3 stress. And you have homeostasis. And when you're in a constant stage 1, there's no homeostasis, your new homeostasis is now a stage 1 stress. And then something sets it off and all of a sudden you're at a stage 2 stress. And that stage 2 stress, when you live there long enough, it becomes your next level of homeostasis. So what's normal for the spider is now chaos for the fly. A person needs to understand that you can only accept things so quickly and that you can't tell somebody everything that happened to you because there's also a significant amount of shame that accompanies survival. And I did so many things that I'm not proud of that I have to write about in my book because it was a part of getting through what I go through. Certain things just became normal for me. So when you're coming back, being around people that misunderstand and mistake pity for empathy -- so a lot of people confuse empathy with pity. They think that they are being empathetic, but they'll be like, "Oh I feel sorry, oh I'm so sorry that that happened to you." That's not empathy, and saying that you're sorry that something happened to a person, it actually takes away from their strength. It chips away at their strength, it chips away at the empowerment, or what little power it is that they have left. Because saying, "Oh I'm sorry that this happened to you," it just -- it doesn't help the situation. And so, empathy is sitting with somebody and saying that "No matter what, I understand that there were actions that you took, but I understand that there were reasons behind those actions. And I can empathize with the fact that in that situation, you made a bad decision, and had I been in your shoes, I might have made that decision too." That's empathy. Pity, though, pity is when you're taking someone's power away from them and you're going, "Oh, oh poor you." So, when people are coming off the streets, they're going to come into contact with people that aren't always going to understand and they have to learn to regulate their own emotions which they don't know how to do yet because those are not the tools that they've acquired, they've acquired a different set of tools and they have a different set of values, a different set of rules that they are still following, they have been ingrained into them. Fears, that are still alive and pulling strings on every action that they take. Does that help?
Victoria: Yeah, yeah thank you so much for that explanation of going through reverse culture shock. And you also mentioned the book that you're writing, Hooked. I think that was actually one of the first times we ever interacted. It was through Instagram when
you offered to send me an excerpt of it. So I was wondering if we could get any updates on how that process is going. Are you still writing it, or is it in the publication stage?
Rayanne: Yeah, so I'm still writing it. You know, there's not another book out there like it, and I know why, because it is hard. The book is narrative non-fiction and it puts you with me as I am making decisions, as I'm experiencing, as I'm feeling, as these things are coming at me so fast that I don't have time to process it. And what that has forced from me is the actual feelings. I have to feel it to remember it. And the interesting thing about the body and the brain is that the body cannot tell the difference between yesterday, ten years ago, or ten years in the future. The body cannot tell the difference, because whatever the brain is saying, is what the body is experiencing in that moment. And so every time that I have to delve into a piece of my past that I had forgotten about, I pull up not just the memory, but the feeling that came with it. So I feel my fear. My body feels the fear of that moment. My body feels the relief, it feels the joy, it feels the crushing disappointment, if feels the humor. It blows me away every time. And so, my body can only handle so much being relived. Which is why the book is taking so long, is because I don't really leave any stones unturned. There's not a lot -- there's not very much that I keep to myself about what happened to me in this book. And I'm talking, I disclose some of my most shameful moments and I'm doing that in hopes that others will have a hand to hold in the dark and not feel as alone as I did when I was going through that. So the book has been hard to write because I'm not just reliving something as in, "Oh I'm just running a story through my head." My body is capable of only holding so much. As I work on each chapter, a certain amount of emotions begin to store inside of my body. And as they store they block the energy and I get sluggish, I get tired, I feel sick and I have to go, I have to release all of that. And in order to release that, I do a series of various therapies that I have discovered work best for me. So writing the book is taking for flipping ever because I have to work with my body and my emotions at the same time. Which is probably why no one else has ever done this, by the way. So where the book is at right now, I would say, is it's probably three-quarters, seven-eighths of the way already written. And most of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd draft is done. I definitely have a lot of edits to make to it and I still have a couple of things I want to add. The book is really coming from a place of empowerment where you see how what happened to me made me a better person in the end of it. So I'm excited for people to read the book.
Victoria: We’re excited to read it. Thanks for the update and explaining the process behind writing the book. To me, it kind of connects back to what you were saying at the beginning of the connections between the mind, body, and spirit as a result of trafficking. So that was my last official question, but if there's anything else that you'd like to talk about, this is really your opportunity to do that.
Rayanne: I want to say that when we become accountable for our own healing, we set the standard for humanity. If we want to end trafficking, then women need to work on themselves. Because women are the vessels for the next generation, and we carry trauma in our bodies. My own family, we have a history of trauma that has been transferred down from my great-great-grandma. And you know I'd have to get into the history of my own family to really elaborate on that, but I see the pattern. When I was on the streets, I met a girl and her great-grandma had been a prostitute, her grandma had been a prostitute, her mother was a prostitute, and she became a prostitute. And the result of that was that she was more susceptible to being a prostitute because it was what she was raised with, but she also had a higher tolerance for the emotional distress that comes with that job. And we as women, when we have children, when we encounter and enter into relationships, we teach people how to treat us. And we react to triggers, we react to traumas, we react to the people around us. When we begin to heal ourselves, when we teach our children how to love themselves, when we demonstrate self-value, we instill those behaviors and that identity within our children. And so, if you want to end trafficking, we must be willing to cultivate curiosity and not idealism in our children and in ourselves. Because you have to feel pain in order to find the courage and then in order to find forgiveness, which sets the foundation for compassion.
Rayanne gave us an interesting and important perspective on the psychological effects of trafficking. Additionally, she reminds us that while having good intentions is great, it’s not the only thing that is necessary to fight human trafficking. Partnering with survivor-leaders, like Rayanne who serves as the Herd Manager and Lead Instructor at the Camino Ranch, is crucial to make sure that newer survivors have a role model and someone who can truly understand and empathize with them. But of course, you don’t have to be a survivor to do your part to fight human trafficking.
And that’s where our last Audible Audience submission of the season comes in! This episode’s submission comes from one of our very own translators. Take it away, Judith!
Judith: Hello, my name is Judith Njoroge. I'm originally from Nairobi, Kenya, and I have translated some of the podcasts into Swahili. Trafficking is a global issue that affects many nations, and I am grateful to have been able to participate in the anti-trafficking movement by raising awareness in eastern African nations through my Swahili translations.
This has been Season 4 of the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel, Ariel Niforatos, and Anna Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our Survivors Summer Season which will premiere on June 20th 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.
Tangentially Speaking Podcast Interview with Rayanne Irving: https://chrisryanphd.com/tangentially-speaking/2018/6/4/324-rayanne-irving-horse-trainer-former-child-prostitute-kickboxer
Elsewhere Podcast Interview with Rayanne Irving: https://player.fm/series/elsewhere-2481785/episode-4-rayanne-irving-authortrafficking-survivor
Rayanne Irving's Website: http://www.moxyglobal.org/