Sex Trafficking, Physical Touch, and a Pandemic

I spent a total of 22 of my 23 years of life surrounded by violence. I grew up in an abusive home and I was trafficked for years before turning to survival sex work to feed myself when my family wouldn’t or couldn’t. My body was beaten, broken, and stolen away from me. This left a trail of trauma responses and terror in its wake.

Being physically close to someone set my nerves on edge. A hug or a hand on my arm could trigger a panic attack it took hours to come down from. I was terrified that anyone trying to touch me at all was going to beat or rape me. Even the people I had convinced myself were safe could trigger flashbacks so intense I could physically feel the attacks just by brushing up against me. In my adult life, I learned to shove down these feelings of terror, but when they got triggered to the point I could not hide them, I had intense, sobbing, frantic flashbacks that could last hours.

Then I met a group of people in a church who I almost immediately felt safe with. I began to let them in. I began to tell them my story. They heard me, they believed me, they loved me. Their spirits set my heart at ease. Their gentle compassion could calm my panic to a dull roar. They made me feel safe.

Almost overnight, I began to crave their physical affection. Innocent, gentle gestures. A hand on my back as I spoke about something hard. Holding hands as we prayed. Hugs hello and goodbye and just because I needed one. The physical touch I had spent the majority of my life without was suddenly there. There was gentleness. Nurturing. Love.

I’ve gone from being terrified of touch to craving it. Avoiding touch to seeking it out. Associating touch with fear and pain to associating it with gentleness and people who love me. I’ve learned that physical touch is one of the ways that I feel loved and that I show love. I have effectively gone from being so traumatized no one could touch me to being described as “a hugger.” My happy place has become hugging my church family every weekend or cuddling on the couch to watch movies with my best friend.

Enter COVID-19.

I’m blessed to still be working, but aside from interacting with my two coworkers, I spend my time alone. I live alone. I drive around a deserted town just to feel connected to its people. I text my best friend and pray every day that this will end soon. After weeks of having not a single person touch me, I resort to visiting my abusive parents in order to get any kind of physical touch. I pray the whole drive to their house that they are sober and having a good day because that means I won’t get hurt.

I find myself falling back into this hole of loneliness. The lies Satan whispers to me get louder and louder. My church family that I love so, so much has families of their own. I do not really belong with them. As much as I love them, this pandemic reminds me I am an outsider. I am not their family. I am nobody’s family. The lies grow louder and louder until all I can think about is that the only people who want me only want to use my body. The identity lies sneak up on me and I am no longer loved, redeemed, or wanted, but all those lies that have been whispered to me since before I knew what words meant.

I say these things not to get pity. Not to guilt or shame those in my life who love me, but to help them see what this pandemic is doing to me. We are all struggling and I am trying my best not to be selfish. I don’t expect their undivided attention. I don’t expect daily check ins. I just need help every now and then drowning out the lies, but I don’t belong so I don’t want to reach out.

Please reach out to the adult survivors in your life. Remind them you are there for them. Remind them you still care, they still matter, and they are still redeemed, made new, wanted, loved, worthy. Ask them if they need anything. I’m not asking you to physically go to them. Your health and safety matters, too. Just remind them they are an important part of your life. Remind them they belong.