Princess Found: From the Book

Excerpt from PRINCESS FOUND: A Guide for Mentors of Sexually Exploited Girls
Authors: Steven R. Tracy, ThM, PhD;
Celestia G. Tracy, MA, LPC

Chapter 1: Princess Regina, Pages 2-4


Because of the probability of deep levels of social betrayal (trusted authority figures that abuse) in early childhood, combined with numerous reoccurrences of life-threatening events, the sexually exploited girls that you serve will most likely experience the following symptoms.

  1. Anxiety/Fear. Sexually exploited youth experience all kinds of life-threatening and dangerous events, including sexual and physical abuse, terror, captivity, profound neglect, and debilitating physical illness. A survivor’s body and brain store these events, and remember them in complex, confusing, and intense ways. These body memories cause intensely high levels of anxiety and fear that the survivor is not able to control. This is often her most pressing concern and issue.
  2. Depression. Symptoms of depression in children and adolescents can include social withdrawal, intense anger or rage, disruption in sleep and eating patterns, sadness, resignation, and despair.
  3. Anger. This is a classic symptom of trauma and is actually a healthy reaction to abuse. Interpreting this anger as evidence that a survivor’s soul is intact will be a helpful reframe for both of you in understanding this confusing emotion. Her anger demonstrates that she is still alive! In time, she will be able to control her outbursts as she is supported in addressing the underlying feelings, issues, and needs. Depending on the personality of the girl, her expressions of anger may serve as a guide in measuring her pain. Anger is typically triggered when she feels powerless, vulnerable, afraid, and/or trapped.
  4. Hyperarousal. This is defined as “a condition in which the nervous system is perpetually aroused long after the traumatic event has ended. This results in chronic hypervigilance, anxiety, increased heart rate, sleeplessness, irritability, and even nausea.” What makes hyperarousal so confusing is that a seemingly endless number of events or experiences can unexpectedly (and often subconsciously) remind the brain of the trauma event and trigger a physiological response. The more these girls can be helped to understand this confusing bodily response, the less shame and more compassion they will feel toward themselves. You may need remind her of the complex effects of hyperarousal and encourage her with the truth that this is a normal response to the trauma she has experienced. She is not “crazy.”
  5. Intrusive Memories. Intrusion involves “the reliving of the trauma event through flashbacks when one is awake or through nightmares when one is asleep.” Intrusion can also create intense emotions, such a panic or rage. In practical terms, the trauma of the past keeps intruding into the present. As a result, the abuse victim has to keep reliving the event over and over again, often with the same vividness and emotional intensity of the original trauma.

Steps for Mentors

From the onset of the mentoring relationship focus primarily on building trust and creating safety. The following suggestions will get you started:

  1. Focus first on her basic personal and physical needs. These would include medical needs, stable and safe living environment, treatment for addiction, and adequate food/ clothing. To the degree that these are identified and met, she will experience increasing levels of stability and safety.
  2. Enter her world rather than requiring her to enter yours. God modeled this most beautifully when he entered our world through Christ and was with us, experiencing our world with all of its pain and suffering. He calls us to do the same.
  3. Demonstrate spiritual sensitivity. Research tells us that she will probably have a history of religious abuse that will have shattered her basic trust of a “good God.” It is critically important that you be sensitive to these issues without her having to initiate a conversation with you about it. This will go a long way in establishing an environment of safety (and eventually trust) between the two of you.
  4. Help her identify her most pressing emotional/ psychological needs, including grief/loss, depression, fear/anxiety, anger, and shame. You are not responsible to meet all these needs for her as that keeps her relationally dependent and does not move her toward autonomy and self-empowerment. Instead, support her in identifying her most immediate needs, encourage her to ask for the specific support she desires, and then advocate for the additional help she is needing/ requesting. For instance, if she confides that she is struggling significantly with anxiety and fear, you can connect her with resources for professional counseling if she so desires. Remember to ask her what she most needs instead of making those decisions for her. She will probably be either fiercely independent or overly dependent. In either case, she is most helped as you support her in developing her own goals. This is best done through gentle coaching toward the balance of interdependence, which is a mutual dependence within a trusting relationship.

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