Helping women recover from the trauma of modern slavery

The ILO estimates that world-wide, around 40 million people are caught up in modern slavery. Women and girls account for around 71%.  Modern slavery involving the exploitation of women includes sexual exploitation, human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices such as servitude, forced labour, debt bondage, deceptive recruiting for labour or services and forced marriage.

HerCircle applied for a Social Justice Small Grant for seed funding of a new program to assist the recovery of women who experienced trauma as a result of modern slavery. The program included an art therapy group program, creative-art practices, animal-assisted therapy and psychoeducation.

This project assisted participants to build connections with other women with similar experiences who were also struggling to overcome trauma. The project provided a safe, non-judgemental and confidential space for women to rebuild a sense of belonging, while healing. The art and animal-assisted therapy model helped women develop new coping skills, increase resilience, connect with others, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.  It provides a pathway for women to gain confidence to become social advocates within their communities.

Feedback received from facilitators and participants revealed that women found it very helpful to engage in group work therapy, while attending individual sessions with their counsellors. This simultaneous engagement in both programs facilitated women’s individual therapeutic progress helping the women to better understand themselves, better express their emotions, develop self-esteem, confidence and the ability to develop a connection with others.

The women’s responses to the program illustrated the importance of remaining flexible and adaptive in day-to-day circumstances. The needs of the women supported are as complex and diverse as their experiences are, and what works for one woman won’t necessarily work for another. The key to success is to remain flexible and tailor services to each woman’s unique needs.

The aim is for HerCircle to be a permanent program option for women as part of their wellbeing recovery plan. It will be delivered through rounds, run once or twice a year, with the next one planned for mid-2022.