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Caring for the Whole Person

When speaking with a ministry colleague a few years ago about the complexities of serving individuals who are being commercially sexually exploited, they wondered aloud how we can expect someone to leave their exploiter when the person’s immediate needs are taken care of through exploitation. This ministry colleague reflected on a situation in which a woman living in dire poverty in another country was faced with the decision between being sexually exploited or letting her children go hungry. In a Faithward article, “How to Minister to Minister to the Whole Person,” David Kool and Andrew Ryskamp share that “the power of the good news is strongest when people experience the full life that God desires for them.” While I desire for people to be free from exploitation and abuse, I recognize that aiding people in escaping exploitation can be nuanced when people have varied and complex needs; I care about people as holistic beings and try to have an approach to care that recognizes the full life that God desires for us.

“Holistic” can be defined as “dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part.” At Restorations, one of our organizational values is Holistic Care, and we seek to empower survivors of human trafficking and exploitation in their physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual restoration.

By offering a false sense of security, respect, and love, a trafficker can establish a trauma bond

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that we have a hierarchy of needs - physiological (basic needs, shelter, food, clothing), safety (safe environment, employment, etc.), love and belonging (family, friendship, connection, etc.), esteem (respect, self-esteem, etc.), and self-actualization (feeling that we are living up to our potential) - with needs lower on the hierarchy that must be satisfied before moving up the hierarchy. For example, we cannot successfully attempt to pursue esteem needs if our basic needs for food and shelter are not being met.

We have foundational needs - physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual - as human beings, but these needs can also be manipulated and abused. A report from Shared Hope International explains how pimps and traffickers exploit this hierarchy of needs to manipulate others. The report states, “past sexual abuse, family dysfunction, societal judgment, and systemic failure leave gaps into which traffickers/pimps insert themselves as providers. By offering a false sense of security, respect, and love, a trafficker can establish a trauma bond that will keep the victim vulnerable, completely subject to the trafficker, and the source of profits through her exploitation.” This is why some traffickers place themselves at bus and train stops in major urban centers; they know how to identify runaway youth who are looking to have emotional needs met (the need to feel love and belonging), as well as basic or physical needs like shelter or food. Traffickers and pimps are adept at assessing what needs can be exploited in order to recruit and groom a victim for exploitation. 

We are all human beings with a range of needs.

When individuals escape exploitation, they are left with a range of needs to be met as well. These needs are complex and often include any preceding their exploitation (basic needs, emotional needs, etc.) that might have left them vulnerable to exploitation in the first place, compounded with needs as a result of trafficking (compromised physical health, mental health, safety, a need for a caring community, etc.). 

We are all human beings with a range of needs. This is why we place a high value on holistic care at Restorations. Our physical, mental, and emotional health are often intertwined and all crucial to our overall well-being and healing. I take my cue from Jesus who demonstrated how to care for people as holistic beings. Jesus cared for peoples’ physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. He ate with people. He listened to people. He celebrated with people. He had thought provoking, intellectual conversations. He healed people. As a community of believers, we can take our cues for Jesus in how we care for, disciple, and minister to people made in the image of God.

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