What do you do about your child being bullied?

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First, don’t be surprised if the kids in your care get bullied.

Here are some suggestions for healthy responses for dealing with bullying:

  • Calm down. Pause and take a deep breath before you do or say anything.
  • Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 5.05.27 PMListen and focus on the young person. Learn what’s going on and show with facial expressions and active listening skills that you want to help.
  • Understand that it may be difficult or shameful for the young person to talk about what’s happening. Offer to include a social worker or mental health professional.
  • Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 5.05.36 PMRespond in terms of safety of the young person, saying something like, “I care about you and want to help you stay safe and have a good life.
  • Give advice about what to do. Offer to do role-play with the young person to let him or her get feelings out in a safe way.
  • If the child is considering  retaliation, ask what the young person is trying to achieve from the behavior he or she is considering.
  • Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 5.05.43 PMAsk the young person for ideas on what he or she could do differently to feel better, fit in, or whatever other result he or she hopes to achieve.
  • Make it clear to the young person that you are on his or her side. Do what you can to help the young person to not feel so alone.

It will take time, patience, and a commitment to love and listening to heal the youth in your care. They are worth it.

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Printable Cheat Sheet: Click Here

Video series available on YouTube

Provided by Successful Survivors Foundation

Affiliated with Successful Survivors Foundation Parenting Video Website

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What do you do about sexually inappropriate behavior?


First, manage your expectations. Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 4.22.20 PMDon’t be surprised when young people in your care act
inappropriately. Children who have been sexually abused don’t have good boundaries.
They may be trying to show affection. They may think the inappropriate behavior is a way to earn approval. The good news is that when a young person within your influence behaves inappropriately, you have an opportunity to teach them the right way to be in relationship.

Here are some suggestions for healthy responses to inappropriate behavior:

  • Calm yourself before you speak to the youth. You may feel angry or betrayed by their behavior.  If you exhibit your anger to the youth, you will trigger their flight or fight response and they will not process your message. Pause and take a deep breath before you do or say anything. 
  • Never shame the young person. Be careful your words are value natural
    when you are acting to diffuse the situation.
    If you shame the youth through your words or actions you will trigger their Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 4.25.43 PMflight or fight response and they will not hear what you are saying. They will respond to you angrily and nothing will be achieved. As a first step, try to redirect their attention or behavior.  If their actions are physical try to draw them away from the situation by asking for help somewhere else. Although the youth’s behavior may be overtly sexual, they may not realize it is inappropriate. Shaming them will only serve to hurt them and your message will not be processed. 
  • Create a space between the event and your interaction with the youth. If either you or the youth cannot calm down or if you believe that a conversation at the time of discovery will cause flight or fight do not undertake the conversation. This does not mean that you should leave the youth or any one else in a dangerous environment.
  • Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 4.29.39 PMNever ask “Why” questions.
     Asking the youth, “Why they were breaking the rules,” or “Why they were taking acting sexually,” are hard questions to answer and may lead to them lying.
    Instead ask “How and What” questions. For instance “How did the response you got from the other person make you feel? “ What were you feeling that caused you to act that way?” 
  • Coach all your responses to their rule breaking in terms of your concern for their safety. Explain how their inappropriate sexual behavior can lead to potential physical and/or psychological damage.  Reactions from others to their behavior may cause them physical harm and their behavior may ultimately cause them to break one or more laws. Do not let yourself be goaded into punitive actions. Employ facts that prove your concerns about safety. 
  • Do Not Lecture. Listen. Listen to what the youth has to say. Reflect back to them  your understanding of their thoughts and needs in a value neutral or sympathetic fashion. Do not tell them you know how they feel. Tell them you hear what they are saying. Never use the word But. Remember your job is to teach them how to be safe, NOT to judge their behavior. 
  • Empower The Youth To Create A Safer Way to Deal With Their Feelings. Collaborate with the youth in exploring creative ideas to safely deal with the feelings, and needs that caused them to use or sell drugs. If an idea is the youth’s (even if you guided them to it) they will embrace it more strongly than if it came from you. 
  • Make sure the consequence for the youth’s rule breaking is not larger thanScreen Shot 2017-04-05 at 4.25.55 PM the size and scope of their offense and is directly related to their behavior and their safety.  If a particular place, person or article(s) of clothing triggers this behavior you will have to ask them to give it up until they can demonstrate to you they can handle the situation and their behavior safely. Make sure they understand they are not being punished but that your actions are to help them remain safe. 
  • Understand that Traumatized Children may look and be chronologically one age but are psychologically a much younger age. Many traumatized youth do not understand their sexuality and do not intend for their actions to be sexual, they think they are being friendly.
  • Ascertain what the youth knows about reproduction and  sexuality. Traumatized youth who may have moved from home to home may not have had reproduction and sexuality accurately explained to them. Find out what they know, and then in simple factual terms without displaying discomfort or awkwardness explain human sexuality to the youth. If it is difficult for you to have this conversation find someone in your life who the youth gets along with to have it with them. Remember if you act embarrassed the youth will get the wrong message about their behavior and the facts.
  • Realize that one interaction probably will not end the youth’s inappropriate behavior. There are deeply rooted psychological reasons a youth acts out sexually. Some of these reasons may be tied to their feelings about or their experiences with their birth parents.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 4.25.21 PMIt will take time, patience, and a commitment to love and listening to heal the youth in your care. They are worth it.

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Printable cheat sheet: Click Here

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A New Resource for Fighting CSEC

This week’s blog is about two new resources that can help prevent the tragedy of trafficking and can help with care of rescued victims.

Many kids who get involved in trafficking go into it without a fight. They are compliant victims. In fact, they may not see themselves as victims at all. Sadly, many of them see what is commonly referred to as “the life” as their only option. They truly have no idea that there are other options available to them. This is also true for rescued victims that go back to their former trafficker. It all comes down to options, and feeling as though they have none.

The same is true for young people who commit suicide—they choose it when they believe they have no other options. This is particularly true for young people who have known someone who committed suicide. When they’ve experienced the loss of someone through suicide, it’s as though that person “modeled that choice” to them. Retired therapist, Joan Sellers, who worked in the area of suicide prevention, stated that, “people who know someone who suicided are twice as likely to suicide because they consider it a viable option.” Couldn’t it also be true that young people who know someone in “the life” have an increased likelihood of choosing to become part of someone’s “stable?” With an average life expectancy of 7 years, the sad truth is that the only difference between the choices of a life of trafficking and suicide is the pain experienced and the time it takes to die.

Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense that if we want to reduce the likelihood that a young person will choose to go into trafficking or that a rescued trafficking victim will return to trafficking, one way to do so would be to provide the young person with additional options?

How in the world would a young person know what options were available to him or her? What if every foster parent knew where to find independent living programs, job-finding programs, Safe Families Plus programs, etc. to refer young people to? What if every social worker knew of local services for the homeless, domestic violence shelters, community services centers, churches with youth outreach programs, etc.? What if the young people could download an app that showed them every resource available within 5 miles of their present location? An app that does just that was developed by Los Angeles County Social Worker, former foster kid, and Army veteran, Ruby Guillen. Additional resources can be found at http://www.vanguard.edu/gcwj/trafficking- resources/. There are lots of resources available, but if young people aren’t aware of the resources or how to access them, they won’t.

NEW OPTION #1: One way that any interested person can learn about the issues, the challenges, promising practices, and available resources is through the Vanguard University’s Global Center For Women and Justice online Human Trafficking Certificate: http://www.vanguard.edu/gcwj/htcertificate/. Dr. Sandie Morgan, Director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice developed this certificated program so that anyone, anywhere can study the issues, be a voice in his or her community, and can spread the word about available resources for prevention, demand reduction, care of rescued victims, and every other aspect of human trafficking.

Right now, every one of us can let young people know that they have options! We can help to open the eyes of the young women within our influence to the opportunities that are available to them now more than at any other time in history. There is more opportunity now than ever in “STEM”careers, which stands for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” Still believe that women aren’t good at math? Ask former 12-year-old trafficking victim, Carissa Phelps, author of Runaway Girl, who holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, an MBA, and a juris doctorate. Or ask Ruby Guillen who, when she’s not working as a Social Worker is competing in “Hack-A-Thons” and teaching technology to young people. Ruby, along with her team at Humanistictech, helps to empower young people by teaching them the valuable and highly transferable skills that will give them powerful options for self reliance and independence for the rest of their lives.

NEW OPTION #2: Through a generous grant from a couple that adopted their only child from foster care and from Markel Services Incorporated, the Successful Survivors Foundation worked with three-time Academy award winning film producer, Jana Memel, to create a series of videos in which actors play out the scenarios that foster families experience. The actors show the interactions that sometimes lead to tragedy.

Then the narrator shares communications tools provided by foster care experts and thought leaders. The viewers then get a glimpse into the thoughts of the different characters. And finally the actors act out the scenario using some of the tips and techniques that, if used consistently, should improve the safety and relationships of everyone involved. The great news is that these videos are available 24/7 FREE OF CHARGE at www.getresultswithbetterconversations.com.

Our hope is that if kids feel safe and accepted in your foster home, they’ll be less vulnerable to traffickers because they’ll see that remaining in that safe, stable, welcoming environment IS the best option.

I’d like to hear from YOU about suggestions, resources, and options. Let’s connect at www.facebook.com/successfulsurvivors to help create successful survivors of the victims of abuse or trafficking within our influence.


Rhonda Sciortino, author of How To Get To Awesome, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success. Rhonda can be reached at [email protected]

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Human Trafficking 101

The Problem

The FBI estimates that 100,000 children are sold right here in the United States for sex each year, including in child sex trafficking, child sex tourism, and child pornography. There is not a single state in the US that has not been touched by this human tragedy, yet in many states the challenge remains that the problem of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) hasn’t yet risen to the level of those who can launch systemic change.

The Orange County California Board of Supervisors issued a resolution on September 1, 2015, that I would like to see every state adopt. They resolved to affirm their commitment to preventing the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) and to work collaboratively with all county partners to identify, protect, and to serve these vulnerable children and youth. In that same resolution, which has been distributed in the areas of education, child welfare, mental health, medical, and to law enforcement and justice, the board of supervisors declared that CSEC has become an epidemic in the state of California.

Prevention is key

The Human Rights Project for Girls estimates that somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 American kids are currently at risk for becoming victims of CSEC and trafficking. The FBI has documented that 60% of the children rescued from trafficking in 2013 reported having been involved with foster care, and nearly all report having been abused or neglected as children. In 2012, 88 children were rescued from trafficking in Connecticut. 86 of them had been in foster care. In that same year, Los Angeles County reported that 72 commercially sexually exploited girls were in their Succeed Through Achievement and Resilience Court Program. Of those 72, 56 were child-welfare involved.

Since many of us are involved in foster care, we are on the front lines of prevention. It’s important that we know the factors that make young people, especially girls, easy prey for traffickers. According to the Human Rights Project for Girls, these are the highest risk factors:

  • Being female between the ages of 12-14
  • A history of sexual and physical abuse
  • Foster care involvement
  • Being a runaway or homeless youth
  • Living in an impoverished community
  • Disconnection from education system and off-track for achievement
  • Substance dependency



Lessons learned from former CSEC victims

When I listen to rescued trafficking victims, I always try to mine the lessons out of what they share. There are things that I’ve heard shared by various people in different ways that shed some light on some of the themes that seem to be common in these tragedies.

They were coerced into doing something. One former trafficking victim told of being a good student, working hard in school, and being hopeful for her future. Her friend from school invited her to go to the friend’s cousin’s house. At 11 years old, she went along. When the girls arrived, they found the cousin and his friends smoking and drinking beer. The girl immediately felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but she was 11,with no way to leave or to call anyone to come get her. Everyone kept encouraging her to drink a beer. She didn’t want it. She didn’t like the cigarette smoke. But after a while she got thirsty and took a drink of beer. The next thing she knew, she woke up tied to a mattress on the floor of the garage of that house. She was raped repeatedly for two days.

Someone “loved” them. Many former victims report the trafficker as their “boyfriend” or “daddy.” Some truly believe, even after being rescued, that the trafficker loved them. Stop and really think about this for a moment…these girls are so starved for love, affection, and encouragement that they are easily deceived into believing thinly veiled lies. Many of these victims were sexually abused as children, so what they experience with traffickers isn’t that out of the ordinary for them. Sadly, they believe that their worth and value is in their looks and how they earn their living.

They were dependent on the substance they use to medicate their pain. Victims of abuse often self-medicate with prescription or illegal drugs or with alcohol. When the prescription is no longer refillable or the money runs out to purchase the medication, they do whatever they have to do to get what they need, which often involves sex for drugs. Many victims don’t even see this as trafficking. The same is true for the young people who trade sex for a place to stay and something to eat. In our culture of “friends with benefits” being an acceptable category of relationships, they look at the “exchange” as one option, rather than as a desperate last resort.

There are many other lessons we can learn from rescued victims, but if we take just these three things, we can extrapolate from them some prevention strategies.

Ideas for preventing CSEC

Coercion: To coerce means to compel by force, intimidation, or authority, especially without regard for individual desire or volition. Persuasion, on the other hand, is a peaceful, non-threatening way to convince another person. Since the purpose of persuasion is to open the heart and mind of another, any changes in the opponent’s attitudes or actions are voluntary.

Teach the young people within your influence what coercion is, and the difference between coercion and persuasion. You can raise their awareness of coercion and the ability to avoid it by giving them examples of what coercion sounds like, and conversely, what persuasion sounds like. For example coercion may sound like, “if you really love me, you’ll do this,” or “if you don’t do this, I’m going to go get your little sister and make her do it.” Persuasion, on the other hand, may sound like, “if you want to be a lawyer someday, you need to buckle down and study now,” or “I would really like you to do this, but I understand if you don’t want to. I will care about you no matter what you decide.”

Once you’ve explained the difference between coercion, which benefits the person doing the coercing, and persuasion, which should always be in the best interest of everyone involved, move on to demonstrating some specific ways to avoid coercion. For example, teach young people to say things like, “No, I don’t want to go with you and your cousin.” Help them understand that they can and should say no if they have the slightest discomfort. Tell them that they are not obligated to give a reason to the person who is trying to coerce them. Let them know that societal politeness and cultural acceptability can be set aside when they feel threatened or afraid. And as Robert Martin, former LAPD Captain and personal protection consultant (www.facebook.com/captbobmartin), says, “learn to confidently and convincingly say NO MEANS NO.” In doing this, you’ll be helping young people protect themselves against all forms of coercion they may face in their lives.

flat,800x800,075,f.u1Love: To help kids protect themselves against the lure of a trafficker who tries to make them feel wanted and loved, beat them to the punch! Act like you care about them, act like you want them in your family, and act like you love them. If they are difficult to love, as most wounded people are, ACT like you’re competing for an academy award until you can genuinely love them.

For kids who have felt unloved, generic compliments won’t work. Find something you genuinely like or admire about them and point it out to them. Are they especially courageous, resilient, or determined? Whatever good you can find in them is likely one of the good characteristics they can leverage to create their own successful life. Remember, you won’t always be there to protect them. They will think more highly of themselves, and be less vulnerable to a sweet talking person if they know that you think highly of them.

Substance abuse: Kids who have been hurt are not abusing drugs to have a good time—rather, they abuse drugs to medicate their pain. We can get to the root of this problem by making them feel loved, valued, and wanted. If they’re already medicating their pain, your job may be more difficult, but making them feel valued is the first step to alleviating their pain and giving them the ability to choose to quit self-medicating.

In conclusion, nearly all the rescued trafficking victims who have gone on to create good lives for themselves report that one person saw value or potential in them. Regardless of whether you are a foster parent who sees the child every day or the receptionist in the doctor’s office who sees them once a year, YOU CAN BE THE PERSON WHO SEES VALUE IN THEM. When you see something good, say something good.


Rhonda Sciortino, author of How To Get To Awesome, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success. Rhonda can be reached at [email protected]

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Advice for the Unwanted & Unloved

Have you ever felt like a loser? Like the only one not chosen for a team? Like the only one not invited to the party? Although many people don’t admit it, most of us have felt that feeling of being left out, unwanted, and as though we don’t belong. What is profoundly sad is that it’s totally unnecessary. I find it incredibly sad that most people who were victims of abandonment, neglect, abuse, and/or dysfunction have no idea that they are some of the strongest, most resilient, most resourceful people on Earth. And that those qualities are highly transferrable and extremely valuable in the workplace.

For most of the first forty years of my life, I didn’t know about the awesome strengths, character traits, coping mechanisms, and compensatory skills I had acquired as a result of the pain I’d experienced. Consequently, I felt like a total loser until about 8 years ago. Oh, I knew how to hide it fairly well, but anyone who barely scratched the surface of the facade, would be scratching the barely healed scab off the life-long wounds of having been abandoned by my mother and father, severely abused by guardians, bullied by classmates, and rejected by just about everyone who saw the filthy, smelly, hurt and angry little girl I was. I didn’t know then how awesome I truly was. Had I known…had someone told me… I might not have been burdened under the weight of a feeling of being unwanted and unloved for most of my life.

After a lifetime of working hard to prove that I had some worth and value, trying everything I could to get people to like me, giving (and giving and giving) stuff, time, and money to others, something finally clicked. I had accomplished a lot of good things. I had achieved many goals and received awards of recognition. But most importantly, I had been blessed with some good relationships with healthy people who hung in there with me despite the drama that was driven by the continuously cycling depression and anger that was roiling inside me.

awesomeBecause of the good people who saw good in me, and pointed out specifically why they thought so, I was finally able to believe that there actually was good in me, and that, in fact, I was awesome in my own goofy way! No longer did I have to work hard at “acting normal,” (whatever “normal” is). No longer did I have to try to emulate the good qualities I saw in others (which was how I eventually untangled the tangled wiring in my brain from being raised by a mentally ill man and an alcoholic and addicted woman in a crazy-making environment).

When the light went on in my head and the “head knowledge” of knowing my good qualities dropped that long 18” into my heart, I finally understood that I actually am pretty awesome, and that it’s not arrogant or boastful to acknowledge it! Because not only am I acknowledging that about myself, but I’m now able to see the awesome qualities in others without having to be envious about what they have that I don’t. I realized that I’m not in competition with anyone except the person I used to be. Knowing the qualities that make me awesome, gives me the confidence to celebrate he awesomeness of others, which makes collaboration and powerful collective impact possible! It is for that reason that I’ve decided to help others find their unique awesomeness in the little book, HOW TO GET TO AWESOME—101 steps to find your best self.

I hope that everyone who’s ever felt unwanted, unchosen, or unloved reads it from cover to cover. And I hope that each reader finds his or her awesome self in the pages of this little book. And then I hope that each awesome person goes out into the world identifying the awesomeness of everyone within their influence.

Awesome people attract other awesome people. They attract amazing opportunities. And they seem to go from one awesome life experience to the next. Imagine awesomeness spreading like a “contagious virus” with every awesome person spreading awesomeness throughout the world! Could such a simple thing really change lives, and go on to change the world? I’m just goofy enough to believe it can! C’mon…join me!

rhonda-sciortinoRhonda Sciortino, author of How To Get To Awesome, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success. Rhonda can be reached at [email protected]

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Do You Know the Signs of Trafficking?

OK, so by now we know that human trafficking in general, and the selling of children for sex (referred to in law enforcement as Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, or CSEC) in specific, are happening in communities all over the US. We know that there is an entire industry on the “dark net” on which children are bought and sold for sex. We know that mothers who are drug addicted pay dealers for drugs by “loaning” or selling outright, their children for sex. It’s heartbreaking. It’s heinous. We’re aware. Now, what can we do??

Most people hear about these terrible things, and would do something if they could, but they don’t know what to do. This month’s article is about the resources that are available to all of us, free of charge. We can use these resources to educate and empower ourselves, our families, our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We can work with management to organize a lunch-n-learn at our company. We can collaborate with local ministries to put on educational events. (If we can’t talk about these things in church, and ignite church- goers to stop this heinous crime, where should we talk about these things?!) We can email copies of this article or links for resources to people involved with Scouts, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and other youth-related organizations. We can put “trafficking indicators” under our email signature lines.

6913435Human trafficking is a hidden crime, so the first step to combating it is to identify victims, or those at risk of being trafficked, so they can be rescued. I get that we aren’t all cut out for leading the charge against trafficking in our communities, but every one of us can learn and pass on indicators that help educate people who might just be the person who sees something and makes an anonymous phone call that saves a trafficked child’s life. If you think I’m being overly dramatic, consider that the average life span of a trafficked child is 7 years. Consider also that the average age of a trafficked child is 12.

Possible Indicators of Trafficking

Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Here are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

facts-about-human-trafficking-profitRed Flag Indicators of Trafficking

While not an exhaustive list, these are some red flags that could mean a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

  • Living with employer
  • Poor living conditions
  • Living with multiple people in cramped space
  • Inability to speak to individual alone
  • Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
  • Employer is holding identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid or paid very little
  • Under 18 and trading sex for rent

What Do You Do?

If you see someone who you think may be trafficked, do not at any time attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions. Your safety as well as the victim’s safety is paramount.

If you have the opportunity to speak privately with someone you suspect may be a victim, be aware that the trafficker could be watching. Be careful not to jeopardize the victim’s safety. Assuming it is safe to do so, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:

  • Can you leave if you wanted to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
  • Has your family been threatened?
  • Do you live with your employer?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Do you have your own money?
  • Are you in debt to your employer?
  • Do you have your passport or identification? Who has it?

If you’re unable to safely ask questions or the answers would indicate that intervention is necessary, contact local law enforcement directly or call the tip lines below:

  • Call 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423); outside the US call 802-872-6199.
  • Submit a tip at www.ice.gov/tips.
  • To get help for victims, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) by calling 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). The NHTRC can help connect victims with service providers in the area and provides training, technical assistance, and other resources. The NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.
  • 911 Emergency. For urgent situations, notify local law enforcement immediately by calling 911.

Other Resources

For materials, trainings, and videos from the Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign, click here or copy and paste this into your browser:

www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/share- resources.

For online awareness training for:

  • groups or individuals, click here or copy and paste this into your browser: www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/awarenesstraining
  • first responders in your community, click here or copy and paste this into your browser: www.dhs.gov/video/human-trafficking- awareness-video-first-responders
  • educators in your community, click here or copy and paste this into your browser: https://www.dhs.gov/video/human-traf- ficking-awareness-video-first-responders
  • for a Spanish translation of resources, click here or paste this into your browser: www.state.gov/documents/organization/25 2544.pdf

For specific resources for educators, click here or copy and paste this into your browser: https://www.dhs.gov/publication/blue- campaign-training-materials

Together, we can identify and help save the trafficking victims who are all around us.

rhonda-sciortinoRhonda Sciortino, author of the new book Successful Survivors: The 8 Character Traits of Survivors and How You Can Attain Them, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success.

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When Dysfunctional is Normal

Rhonda Sciortino: When a child grows up amidst sudden outbursts of yelling and screaming or worse, physical violence, it changes the child. It influences the way his or her brain develops, the assumptions he or she makes, and the risks he or she is willing to take. Without appropriate intervention, these changes can often be lasting.

Actions and words of the people in authority become normal. Think about how a baby learns to walk and talk. The baby tries to mimic what he or she sees and hears. Imagine the baby raised by people who think it’s funny for the baby to learn curse words. These are the people who think it’s hysterical when toddlers learn to separate their middle fingers and “flip people off.” These people aren’t cautious about what’s on TV, about what they say in the presence of the child, or how others are treated in front of the child. Consequently, the child grows up hearing and seeing things that no one should see and hear.

With every raised voice and shattered dish or rough sexual act witnessed, the child’s fear and anxiety level raises and does not come back down. Eventually the vigilance the child feels becomes hyper vigilance, and that becomes his or her norm.

I’m not suggesting that those of us who grew up in a violent environment are too broken to be fixed. In fact, some of us grow up and thrive in careers that others simply wouldn’t be able to handle. For example, people in law enforcement and combat soldiers are often excellent in those roles because of the live-ammunition-boot-camp they experienced when they were too little to do anything other than figure out how to survive.

The fact that many of us use the lessons learned in violence to survive and thrive in our adult lives doesn’t discount the residual effect. For example, I recently posted a request on Facebook to let me know how experiencing violence as a child changed them. I received responses from accomplished, successful adults aged 20 through 60 that included, “I can’t stand loud noises,” “I can’t sit in a restaurant unless my back is against the wall because I can’t stand anyone walking up behind me,” “I don’t like crowds,” and “I won’t stand up for myself because I never want to argue.”

I echo all these sentiments. I refer to the residual effects of my violent childhood as my “goofiness.” I’ve embraced it. I no longer fight it. So, I don’t like crowds. So what? I don’t go places where I know no one. I won’t join…anything. I’ve tried, but I go once and never return. I understand that my friends often feel that I’m missing out on so much, and perhaps I am. But I’m fine with it. I can do whatever I have to do for work, but my preference will always be to create places and relationships in which I can feel safe. A deep desire to create and maintain safety is normal to the person who has experienced violence.

I hate that there are predators who take advantage of the changes that happen in kids who’ve been victims of violence. People who seek to profit from the vulnerability of victims Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 10.27.53 AMof childhood violence are the worst kind of predators. They understand that children who have been hurt by those who were supposed to love and protect them want to be loved and protected. They know that children who’ve been hit expect to be hit. They know that children who’ve been raped believe, on some level, that being used for someone else’s pleasure is all they’re good for.

So what can caregivers do about kids who have been victims of violence? Tell kids that what happened to them wasn’t right. SHOW kids the right way to be in relationship. Accept their quirkiness and don’t force what doesn’t come naturally to them. Gently lead them to try new things while creating routine and consistency which spells S-A-F-E-T-Y to them. If you do these things, you will eventually help the children within your influence to create a new “normal.”

Dr. Sandie Morgan: The heartrending impact of environmental violence has been observed when newborns have tiny little scars in the palms of their hands from clenching their fists in utero. Reports of hyper-vigilance include children who sleep with their eyes open, or who do not sleep until totally exhausted. The results of sleep deprivation become part of the cycle of spiraling anxiety.

Children often develop adaptive behaviors that serve them well as they struggle to sur- vive abusive circumstances. However, after the child is removed from that environment or grows up, those same adaptive behaviors can then be identified as maladaptive anxiety or depression disorders.

The question is “what can we do?” The field of brain science is growing and uncovering new strategies that are very encouraging. *Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one promising therapy that identifies maladaptive behaviors and cognitive processes and systematically uses psycho-education and skills training.

A student in my Family Violence class told me his story of growing up surrounded by violence and threats of violence that resulted in anxiety and depression issues. He wanted to tell me that what he was learning in class is that this is not forever. He realizes he has work to do. One encouraging insight he reported is that his brain is still forming for the next few years. He took the class to make sense of his past and now he’s finding a way forward to a resilient future.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.02.12 AMRhonda Sciortino, author of the new book Successful Survivors: The 8 Character Traits of Survivors and How You Can Attain Them, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.02.01 AMDr. Sandie Morgan, Ph.D., is Director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice, overseeing the Women’s Studies Minor, as well as teaching Family Violence and Human Trafficking and produc- ing the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. Sandie’s background as a Pediatric Nurse brought her into contact with her first victim of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. She is committed to equipping our communities to be a safer place for vulnerable youth.

Posted in battered women, Child safety, choices, domestic violence, emerge successfully, Uncategorized | Comments Off on When Dysfunctional is Normal

You Will Do What You Think About

If you think about a hamburger for long enough, you’ll eat a hamburger. The more vivid the images of a hot, juicy hamburger just the way you like it, the quicker you’re likely to go get it. It’s just the way our brains work.

Psychologists have long advised athletes to harness this brain capability to envision successfully making their free throws, hitting the baseball out of the park, or running the ball into the end zone for the game winning touchdown. Our ability to think, verbally or in images, is what psychologists call behavioral rehearsal.

In the same way, if we think about a sexual fantasy for long enough, and vividly enough, eventually we’re likely act on it. This is why child pornography is often a precursor to sex with a child. It’s a vehicle by which people can vividly think through their fantasies. And when they think about those fantasies for long enough, and when they see their fantasies acted out in high definition images for long enough, just like the overwhelming urge to go get that hamburger, they’ll eventually begin looking for opportunities to do what they’ve been thinking about.

Most people reading this would never even consider child porn. In fact you may be wondering where all this is going— “why is she talking about this disgusting topic? No one I know is interested in that.” But the truth is that rarely does anyone start out with child porn. They start out with “average” porn. Some people eventually get to the point where the “culturally acceptable” porn does nothing for them, and they look for something more. Illustrating this point, a German study in 2014 (Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn) found that the more porn that was consumed, the less brain activity in the “reward” circuit, which indicated desensitization, leading to an increased need for greater stimulation.

A joint study done recently by Indiana University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa (A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies) found a correlation between consumption of porn and verbal and physical aggression. The study concludes, “…the accumulated data leave little doubt that, on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression than individuals who do not consume pornography or who consume pornography less frequently.”

Unfortunately, the “something more” that desensitized, aggressive porn users are looking for is now readily available and easily obtainable. In fact, there are online “communities” of people who desire and actively seek violent sexual experiences. The sub-section of those predators who have a sexual appetite for children have found normalization of this behavior online. Those who used to be culturally shunned have now found camaraderie on what is commonly referred to as the “darknet.”

These pedophiles share pictures and videos, they trade ways to identify and abduct the most vulnerable victims, and they give one Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 9.51.23 AManother tips and tricks to “grooming” children to go along with this heinous crime without telling anyone. One of these people was convicted of paying another to livestream the rape a young boy—a three year old boy who was abducted because he happened to meet the physical description given by the purchaser.

Ernie Allen, founding chairman of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, shared recently that the average age of child victims of commercial sexual exploitation is 12 years old. Many people justify their use of child porn by reasoning that the kids are adults dressed to look like kids. But the horrendous truth is that the pictures and videos contain real, live children who are being raped, humiliated, drugged, and who have no way to defend themselves. In fact, Ernie Allen explained that many pedophiles are now specifically seeking out very young, non-verbal toddlers, because they’re unable to communicate what’s happening to them.

It remains that the children who are most likely to be lured into sex trafficking are kids who have been abandoned, neglected, abused, or sold by their family of origin, many of whom have been in the foster care system.

Sadly, according to Pew Charitable Trust, the epidemic of parents using opioids is creating of too few homes for kids coming into foster care. When too many kids are in a home, they sometimes don’t get the structure and supervision needed to keep them safe. These kids are exceptionally vulnerable to the lure of traffickers. This is especially true for the children whose addicted parents sold sex with their child (or sold the child altogether) in exchange for drugs. This tragic behavior “normalizes” the transaction of sex in exchange for the child’s sense of belonging with the trafficker and his or her “stable” of others who are available for sale.

So, what do we do? We quit accepting porn as a “normal” part of our culture. We quit dismissing it as though it was harmless, because while it doesn’t lead every consumer to violence or pedophelia, it can. And the priceless life of one child saved because one person didn’t slide down the slippery slope of the never-ending search for ever-more-vile porn to find that no-longer-attainable thrill, is worth the effort we can make in taking a personal stand against it. Think about taking a stand. If you think about it long enough, perhaps you’ll take action.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.02.12 AMRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, is the National Child Welfare Specialist for Markel Insurance Company. Rhonda is a foster alum who chairs the Successful Survivors Foundation and serves as a spokesperson for Foster Care Alumni of America.



Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.02.01 AMDr. Sandie Morgan, Ph.D., is Director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice, overseeing the Women’s Studies Minor, as well as teaching Family Violence and Human Trafficking and produc- ing the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. Sandie’s background as a Pediatric Nurse brought her into contact with her first victim of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. She is committed to equipping our communities to be a safer place for vulnerable youth.

Posted in advice, child abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, Impact of Violence on Children, sexual exploitation of children, Uncategorized | Comments Off on You Will Do What You Think About

Pretending Suicide Isn’t A Problem

Victims of abuse are at higher risk.

We can’t prevent suicide if we don’t talk about it. So, let’s have an honest conversation about the fact that those of us who have experienced the pain of being abandoned, abused, neglected, sold, or treated in anyway that made us feel unloved and unworthy of love, are at a much higher risk of suicide.

According to Dr. Daniel J. Pilowsky of Mailman School of Public Health, adolescents involved with foster care are about four times more likely to have attempted suicide than adolescents never placed in foster care. This probably comes as no great surprise to anyone who has ever been in foster care.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5 to 15-year-olds in the general population. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “teenagers experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, and other fears.” If teens in the general population experience those feelings, imagine the exponential magnification of those feelings by the factors of abandonment, neglect, and abuse that preceded time in the foster care system—a system of living with strangers (hopefully well-meaning, but strangers, nevertheless).

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that every 40 seconds someone commits suicide in the US. This is a national tragedy, which is particularly poignant because it’s often foreseeable and preventable.

Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. The challenge is that many current and former foster kids don’t seek help. This unwillingness to talk about depression and suicidal thoughts can be rooted in various issues including, but not limited to, being unaware that no or low-cost services are available and accessible, an inherent feeling of hopelessness that there is anything that can make life any better, a feeling of being unworthy of receiving help, or the stigma and shame that can accompany thoughts of suicide.

Many of us have been touched by suicide. This is, in fact, one of the factors that increases our risk of suicide. Once someone in our life has taken their life that person’s action becomes an option in the back of our minds should the pain simply get beyond what we can bear. For people who had a parent who suicided when the person was young, there can be an additional underlying sense that it is their destiny to repeat that tragic family history. In addition to childhood abuse and knowing someone who suicided, other risk factors include previous suicide attempts, family history of mental health conditions, mental health diagnosis, and substance abuse.

Know the signs

There are many signs that a person may be contemplating taking his or her own life. The more signs you identify, the higher the risk is that the person will actually attempt suicide.

The top three signs are:

  1. Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
  2. Looking for ways to suicide, including seeking pills, weapons, or other means
  3. Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide WON’T MAKE IT GO AWAY

A person who is actively planning suicide may:

  • speak of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside
  • give verbal hints like, “I won’t be a problem for you much longer, Nothing matters, It’s no use, and I won’t see you again.”
  • put his or her affairs in order, for example, give away favorite possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings, etc.
  • become suddenly better after a period of depression—often because the decision has been made
  • have hallucinations or bizarre thoughts

Some of the many other warning signs can include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities
  • Feeling trapped as though there’s no way out
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from social interaction
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic changes in mood
  • No reason for living or sense of purpose for life
  • Lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Mental health condition (risk increases exponentially with multiple diagnosis)
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Stressful life event
  • Prolonged stress
  • Experiencing seemingly unbearable emotional distress
  • Serious or chronic health problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Head injury
  • Reactions that are out of proportion to the situation
  • Persistent boredom
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, etc.

Things to do

Take every reference to suicide seriously, even those made in a seemingly joking way.

Ask the person directly if he or she is considering suicide. The experts say that you will not drive a person to consider suicide if they are not contemplating it. But if the person is thinking about it, asking the direct question gives the person permission to have an honest conversation. That freedom, in itself, may relieve some of the pressure the person may be feeling. If you’re uncomfortable asking the question, you may consider saying something like, “if what you have been through happened to me, I’d probably feel hurt and angry. I’m wondering if you’ve ever felt like ending your life.”

Mental health treatment can prevent suicide. The first thing to do when you believe that someone is in imminent risk of suicide is to help the high risk person get appropriate mental health treatment. A good therapist gives the person a safe space to express his or her thoughts and feelings accompanied by non-rejecting and non-judgmental responses. Although the person may resist by saying they’ve tried it before and it didn’t help or there’s nothing anyone can do or say to make their situation any better, do not give up. Explain that every therapist is a different person with a unique perspective, and cannot be dismissed until having been given a fair chance.

Don’t leave the person alone. If you have to go, take the person with you or find someone else to stay with the person, but do not leave him or her alone. Doing so, would give the person the space to commit the act. Sometimes it helps to simply put some distance between the person and the opportunity to end his or her life. For example, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that medication packaged in individual “blister” packaging is helping in avoiding suicide attempts in that it slows the person down to popping one pill out of the packaging at a time rather than giving him or her the possibility of ingesting an entire bottle of pills.

Make a contract with the person. For example, say something like, “please promise me that you won’t try to take your life before talking to a therapist or seeing your doctor.” In one case, a therapist who specialized in treating patients with suicidal ideation told of a patient who had called into a suicide prevention hotline. In the course of conversation, the patient mentioned having a big-screen TV. When the hotline operator had tried all she knew to try seemingly to no avail, she simply said, “If you do decide to take your life, may I have your TV?” The result was that the caller’s emotions were redirected away from self-harm toward anger toward the operator and a desire to live to keep his TV in his possession.

Know what NOT to say

Never dismiss or minimize the person’s feelings as absurd or ridiculous. For example, don’t say, “That’s crazy, you’re just overreacting. Your situation not that bad.”

Never tell someone that they should not feel a certain way. In fact, you may want to eliminate “should feel” from your speech. For example, don’t say things like, “you shouldn’t feel sad. Lots of people have it worse than you do.”

Self-care strategies

Depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and myriad other mental and physical conditions are treatable. It’s important to look at mental health challenges the same way that we would look at physical health challenges. People get sick with a cold or the flu, etc., they seek treatment, and they get over it. Other people deal with chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, which aren’t easily dismissed with treatment. Still, they are easily treated with medication, dietary change, and exercise so that the person can face life with a hopeful attitude and a sense of purpose.

The same is true for mental health issues. There are those bouts of depression, etc., like those caused by a tragedy, a loss, or some other sudden, dramatic change, which can be treated and recovered from by creating a new normal and moving toward it. Then there are those chronic conditions that must be treated on an ongoing basis like bi-polar, schizophrenia, etc. Like chronic physical conditions, chronic mental conditions can be managed with medication, a healthy diet, plenty of fresh water, regular sleep routines, exercise, and talk therapy. Just like there is no shame in seeing a doctor and taking medicine for diabetes, there is no shame in seeing a mental health professional, taking medicine, and making other changes to best manage a mental health condition.


If you or someone you know are considering suicide, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1800-273 TALK (8255). For additional information, go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.afsp.org. Know that you or your friend are not alone. Many people have considered ending their lives. The thought is more common than most people would imagine. Yet most people aren’t comfortable in discussing it. Let’s use this blog to start a dialogue with those in our lives who had a rough childhood or who have gone through traumatic loss. Sometimes the person considering suicide needs only to know that someone cares.

rhonda-sciortinoRhonda Sciortino, author of Successful Survivors and the 8 character traits of survivors and how you can attain them, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success.

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You May Say I’m A Dreamer

I have some big dreams and visions. And I’m not the only one. There are lots of us who want to do big things with our lives. We want to make our lives count for something. Many of us try to accomplish big things, but because we only have our piece of the puzzle, we fall short. But when we come together, we’re stronger and better able to do big things.

I have a dream to see kids who are growing up in less than the best of circumstances to be connected with churches in communities throughout the country. I can envision kids who have experienced abandonment, abuse, neglect, poverty, or homelessness (or all of the above) connected with the good people in local churches who will look them in the eyes and see the value they don’t see in themselves.

I envision these kids, like the one I used to be, learning to mine the lessons out of all they’ve been through, learning work ethic and character building, and learning how to have healthy relationships with good people. Having been abandoned, neglected, abused, hungry, and homeless in my life, I am confident that what I envision would be prevention of homelessness, drug use, criminal activity, and trafficking.

Kids who feel valued and cared for are less likely to feel pain that leads to self medicating. The sense of belonging they would feel in a church family would make them far less likely to fall for the lure of a trafficker. And kids who learn relationship skills, work ethic, and good character in the safe environment of people who will gently teach rather than judge them are far more likely to find and keep a good job that will help them become responsible, self-reliant adults.

That’s why I’ve invested the last two years creating the YOUR REAL SUCCESS curriculum. The curriculum is designed to help foster kids and at risk youth learn the valuable lessons that will make them employable as they move toward independence. The curriculum is designed to be facilitated in churches in communities across America. It begins with a full day immersion program where kids learn their individual strengths, talents, and abilities, and begin to see themselves as the unique and awesome people they are. They leave the day with a Life Assignment plan, complete with goals, timeline for fulfillment, and connections with healthy people who want to help them achieve success.

That first day is followed by nine two-hour sessions held at the church one Saturday morning every month. In each of those sessions there’s guidance and accountability for execution of each participant’s Life Assignment plan, a lesson that builds on the founda- tion already laid, and the priceless camaraderie of all participants.

To my point of each of us having only one piece of the puzzle, I created the core materials, Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.01.45 AMbut I’m not a teacher. I have no training in creating engaging, impactful curriculum. I want to see the emotional wounds of the trauma kids have experienced, healed, but I am a business person, not a mental health professional.

It’s expensive to create and print materials for a million kids and volunteers, but I have no clue how to get funding. But I have faith that I’m on the right track, and that others who have a similar dream and vision and who have the other necessary pieces to the puzzle will meet me on the way, so I keep moving forward.

Dr. Karen Bergstrom, Family Psychologist and Executive Director of Safe Families, Western States, has come alongside to help me make sure that volunteers understand trauma informed care before interacting with kids.

Dr. Sandie Morgan, RN, Ph.D., and director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice shares my dream of preventing trafficking by equipping vulnerable kids to avoid the “pull factors” that result in a life of slavery.

Mari Parlade, attorney and former judge is the Manager of Appeals, Records, Contracts, Fatalities, Litigation, Legislation, Community Partnerships & Engagement for Clark County Nevada’s Department of Family Services. In her work as a family law judge and lifelong child advocate, Mari has seen the tragedy of kids who didn’t have the benefit of a program like the one I’m advocating for, and who consequently live lives of incarceration, drug addiction, homelessness, and other desperate circumstances. Mari is committed to collaborating to do all we can together to help kids in Clark County and across the country to create good lives for themselves.

I’m grateful for the people and organizations that share the dream of kids who’ve had a rough childhood becoming the strong, resilient, resourceful people we believe they can be. Now, we need to figure out how to make the dream a reality in the lives of kids who desperately need our help. If you share the dream, please consider what puzzle piece you might bring, and contact me at [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.02.12 AMRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, is the National Child Welfare Specialist for Markel Insurance Company. Rhonda is a foster alum who chairs the Successful Survivors Foundation and serves as a spokesperson for Foster Care Alumni of America.


Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.02.01 AMDr. Sandie Morgan, Ph.D., is Director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice, overseeing the Women’s Studies Minor, as well as teaching Family Violence and Human Trafficking and produc- ing the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. Sandie’s background as a Pediatric Nurse brought her into contact with her first victim of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. She is committed to equipping our communities to be a safer place for vulnerable youth.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on You May Say I’m A Dreamer