University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Campus The Truth About Trafficking: Dark to Light – Episode 14 – Dr. Tiona Praylow
We so appreciate it. Thank you for having me absolutely so. Give us a little flavor of what your day looks like. What do you do? How do you interact with kids, so i am a child psychiatrist at an acute hospital, a residential facility, and i do outpatient and in the mornings i will go in, i will meet with the kids. I will talk with them about their experiences about um. Their progress in the hospital and kind of touch bases with the parents discuss medications that kind of thing that’s. What i do at the acute now. How does a child come to you when you say they’re in the hospital? What are they in a hospital for so most of the time we are getting kids from the emergency room, so some type of mental health or behavioral crisis has occurred. Like a kid will report to their counselor i’m feeling suicidal, i don’t think i can be safe at home. I have recently been traumatized in some way and you know i feel like i don’t want to live anymore. That kind of thing, so they will tell a teacher a counselor, a parent someone. Usually they end up going to the er and from the emergency room they are sent to wherever there is an open space. Now, when you say they go to the emergency room, is it parents taking them there or dss, or do you get them all over? Are you getting them through the system parents take them, dss might take them.
Sometimes someone will call an ambulance and the ambulance. Will transport them and then once they get into the emergency room, they have an evaluation by a psychiatrist there who will determine whether or not they need to be put in the hospital for more intense care and primarily what ages are we talking about our hospital for The short term, the youngest that we accept is 10, but at the residential facility, which you have to have been through some other type of mental health care like a couple of acute hospital admissions, um have done some outpatient and it’s not really doing the trick. The residential level we see kids as young as six years old there yeah. So as you know that this is a series about human trafficking, so tell us how that intersects with what you do so usually there is not a label on the chart that says this. Kid is a human trafficking victim, so it’s really important to really be present with the kid and communicate safety so that, if that is a part of their story, they feel safe. Sharing it with me, and i often don’t get that the first day i meet them once they feel comfortable. They will start to talk about their stories and usually they’re, not telling me the full story. So what i get is the part that they feel like they can communicate, and even that is pretty pretty gruesome. You know what they what they talk about.
Can you give us anything about that? Can you tell us as much as you can about kind of what a session would be like and, and i mean i think i know i can speak for myself and i’m sure others, you can’t, even wrap your brain around it. You can’t even what’s it like to talk to a kid who’s been sexually exploited right. You know it is heartbreaking to hear what people are capable of so recently i had a kid who talked about their parent being the person that participated in their victimization and that their parent was partaking in those acts with other people’s kids, but also subjecting them to It and that kid talked about just the conditions being chained to beds, and one of the things that stuck out was that kid said one of the memories that plagues that kid. The most is just the moaning, the sounds, the smells of you know, sweat and seeing the other kids in there, while this is happening to them, and that kid said the only reason why i’m telling you this is because i’m, not in that situation anymore, but those Other kids still are, and some of them were younger than me – and this kid was maybe 11 years old and to think that there’s, kids, that are younger than that being treated this way by adults and these adults. Based on what this kid told me are. Sometimes people in the community that we would never imagine might be involved in this.
You know people who work at the bank or at a school people that we wouldn’t imagine so just the the way that she was impacted by that she was talking as if she was a five year old, like her voice was really really immature. So she had developed physically and chronologically, but there was a stunting in her development in terms of emotional maturity and the reason why she was at the hospital is because she was feeling like she couldn’t go on anymore and particularly was having some anxiety about the legal Aspects of having to make sure that justice was served, and so another example that really sticks out to me is you know, someone came in and there was just this vacant look um and it never changed like we could be talking about something that was joyful. Talking about some pleasant memories, but that vacant look never changed and it just conveyed to you like the robbery of the human spirit that happens when another human being decides that gratifying. My flesh and deciding that what i want right now in this moment is more important than anything else, it’s heartbreaking. So how do you? How do you begin to break the cycle? What does it take in terms of of of convincing a child who’s been so broken that you know life is good and it’s worth living, and and when you talk about that kid, who’s just vacant how to put the light back on yeah it’s love.
That is all we have, but that is more than enough, and so when we think about like how do we package love into something that we can actively do um, we have to listen and we make ourselves available to tune in to not only what they are Verbally communicating but that listening then translates into observing and just saying like i see you and it’s okay that you’re aware you are right now, but i also see the you that you can be and reminding them over and over again that it’s not their fault. What happened and even the behavioral issues that manifest as a result of that trauma, the more that we can reassure them that these behaviors are your brain and your body doing the best that they could in the circumstances, to keep you alive and look. You survived, but now you don’t need those tools anymore. So let’s trade out those things and let’s give you some more tools, but don’t feel ashamed about using the things that you had to use and kind of giving them that validation and affirming them over and over and over and over again, and then you know empowering Them with strategies that they can use and modeling for them. What that looks like so, if they’re experiencing anxiety, not just saying here, here’s a coping skill go, do it, but sharing in that you know co, regulation with them and and being willing to do it. As many times as they need you to um, i think that’s, the key i mean from everything that i’ve learned through this series, just not a one time, deal it’s kind of like an alcoholic or someone who’s addicted to drugs.
You just got ta, keep walking this road and expecting that there’s going to be a lot of pit stops along the way. Do you anticipate when you’re working, especially with kids, who are victimized at a young age that that they can go on and form healthy bonds? In all of those terms, relations you know, relationship wise sexually, you know get married, have kids, can they can they do that? Yes, they can but it’s up to us as adults, and you know people who have agency to make sure that they have what they need in order to be able to do that, because this is a long journey that we have to walk them through. But we owe it to them, because you know we all are responsible. We may not be active participants, but if we don’t take up the responsibility to say i am an agent of healing in some way shape or form, then we don’t give them the chance that they deserve to be able to go on and have that that life That looks absolutely nothing like what they experienced in the past. Just just talking with you and looking around your office and and knowing a little bit about you, you’re. Obviously, someone who who loves the lord and and and you just glow and and i’m just wondering when you’re dealing with kids, who have been so broken? How do you help them not hate? How do you help them reject fear, because to me that would seem getting over.
That hate too, is a huge issue right. So the first part is: how do i help myself not to hate, because i am angry and i am very very very you know just steaming mad when i hear that an adult has done something like this to anybody, and so how? How do i not hate is the first step and this something that i have to work at every single day, but the person who is perpetrating is broken. The person who is perpetrating is f is fallen and that nature could potentially take over anybody. That makes themselves available to that and does not make themselves available to the spirit and so that’s the first step and then conveying that to the kid that that person who did that is a very, very sick and broken person. They have the option to be healed. If they so choose, and so do you and to that point, how do you stay whole you’re, a mom of three kids you’re dealing with devastating issues. You got ta work on staying healthy yeah. What do you do i stay connected and what i mean by that is that i make sure that, when i wake up in the morning that i have set aside quiet time, that i remind myself of the promises of god that i remind myself that i didn’t Really choose this walk, he he put it in me and i don’t know why, because i personally have not experienced trauma, but i am so so impassioned about doing anything that i can to bring about that healing, and i didn’t put that in myself.
So i know that this is a calling and if he called me to it, then he’s equipped me to do it. But i have to continue to go back to the source and continue to you know, pray for guidance and then the other thing that really really keeps me going is like when i go in there and i talk to those kids like they are remarkably resilient and Strong and determined, and sometimes they are saying to me, um things that bring me life and just to be able to watch the transformation. If you ever see, one person come in broken, depressed, don’t want to live anymore, suicidal and they come out on the other side and they’re shining and there’s a light in their eyes that wasn’t there before like it, gives you life and then an outpatient. I get to see them like over the years and i’m like let’s talk about this together. Do you remember where you were a year ago and we celebrate together, and so that also rejuvenates me um and then i try to you know just make sure that i take time and enjoy my family and the and the blessings you know that god has given Me and continue to just practice gratitude for everything that i have and everything that i can do have you and your husband had any conversations. I know you know your guys are little, but about human trafficking about any of the dangers out there, or do you feel like they’re still too young for that we don’t, i don’t, and i think part of it is – is that it’s been so devastating for me To like take this all in, i want to protect my kids in a way from even knowing that this is part of the world that they live in right now, and i try not to bring too much of work home because i’m already doing a lot, and So i don’t know now that you’re asking me that question like how would i have that conversation and i think um? If i were to have that conversation, i would not be ready to talk about human trafficking.
You know sex trafficking with my kids at their age, but i i would want to talk with them, about um being safe and knowing that they can come to us with anything, because sometimes kids who get involved in this are seeking love acceptance. Something that’s missing at home and just continuing to reinforce them that there are people out there who want to hurt kids and you always have a safe place here with us stay close to your parents and if anything, you know, doesn’t seem right with an adult. You come to me on that note. If there’s a kid out there right now who’s scrolling through social media and is listening to this and feels like they’re in a bad situation, whether they’re being trafficked right now or exploited, and you could grab their attention for 30 seconds. What would you tell them? I would tell them that you are a precious precious precious jewel and that you do not deserve to be treated this way and that there are people here with open arms waiting to love. You the way that you deserve to be loved waiting to walk you through. That journey of healing and you don’t have to be afraid to step into the light. Dr prayler, thank you.