252: What It Takes to Get Unstuck with Kathy McGibbon Givens

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Kathy McGibbon Givens discuss how to get “unstuck” in survivor aftercare. They consider the language we use, aftercare programs, and holistic approaches when serving survivors on their journey to become unstuck.

Kathy McGibbon Givens

Kathy McGibbon Givens is a wife, mother, author, and playwright who has overcome the dark world of sex-trafficking. Kathy’s goal is to raise awareness, fight for those who are being trafficked, and mentor those who have overcome it. She is now Co-Founder and Executive Director of Twelve 11 Partners and in 2021, she was appointed to be a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.

Key Points

  • Kathy explains her use of “overcomer” as opposed to “survivor” as a term to denote how she herself overcame her past and is now thriving.
  • The cycle of toxicity in human trafficking is not easily broken and requires knowledge of the obstacles survivors face.
  • Survivors are crucial in the first step to becoming unstuck.
  • Successful mentor and support groups require survivor leaders input, as well as mentorship for the survivors and other mentors.



Dave Stachowiak 0:03
You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 252, What It Takes to Get Unstuck with Kathy McGibbon Givens.

Production Credits 0:10
Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave Stachowiak 0:31
Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandra Morgan 0:37
And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave Stachowiak 0:39
And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, we are always working together with partners and we of course are helping all of us in this work to get unstuck. Today’s guest is going to really help us to do that. I am so glad to welcome Kathy McGibbon Givens to the show. She is a wife, mother, author, and playwright who has overcome the dark world of sex trafficking. Kathy’s goal is to raise awareness, fight for those who are being trafficked, and mentor those who have overcome it. She is now Co-Founder and Executive Director of Twelve 11 Partners. And in 2021, she was appointed to be a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking by presidential appointment. Kathy, we’re so glad to welcome you to Ending Human Trafficking.

Kathy McGibbon Givens 1:34
I’m so glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Sandra Morgan 1:38
Kathy, we haven’t got to be in the same room yet, but you were a speaker at Ensure Justice just a few months ago here at Vanguard. And there were rave reviews. Everyone felt so empowered by your workshop and your panel presentation during the plenary. So, thank you so much.

Kathy McGibbon Givens 2:01
That was a wonderful time. I thank you for having me. I keep thinking about that event. And that is definitely one of the highlights. Thank you so much for that platform.

Sandra Morgan 2:10
Well, and my husband attended your workshop. He’s a faithful attendee at Ensure Justice. And he’s a pastor. So he’s been hearing about how churches should respond for many years. And he loved hearing you use the term overcomer as opposed to victim or survivor. Can you tell us why that’s important and what it takes to be an overcomer?

Kathy McGibbon Givens 2:39
Absolutely. So, in my own journey of restoration, when I first came out of the life, and when I first understood what trafficking was, I still felt, I still took on a lot of that blame, I still felt like a victim. So it was very hard for me to even say that I was a survivor because I still felt that shame associated with that lifestyle. And so, the more I started sharing, and my healing journey continued, I said, ‘Okay, well, I’m a survivor,’ like I think that some of that stuff is in the past and I think that I’m growing. I was growing in my professional career; I was growing emotionally and spiritually. And, I thought that I had arrived, I’ve survived that thing, I beat it. Well, I was doing a presentation one year and I remember this moment so specifically. I kept saying, ‘I must have as a survivor of trafficking, and as a survivor of sexual exploitation’– I use that term throughout this whole presentation. And this gentleman came up to me and he said, ‘You know what, I loved everything about your presentation. But, you’re so resilient that I cannot associate you with your past, because I see you now.’ And he said the only reminder that I had was the fact that you kept using that term survivor. And once you said that, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s right. She, she did overcome trafficking.’ And so he went into this spiel, and he gave me this long, beautiful story about his wife overcoming cancer and we were both in tears. And I realized, it made me pause and realize, wow, I really overcame certain things in my life. I really overcame trafficking. And so for me, that term means that I defeated it. It’s a term that is associated with thriving. So, I’m thriving spiritually, emotionally, mentally. When victims come out of the life and then they survive the life, and then they start growing in their healing journey, I believe that we have overcome. I believe that we have all overcome the things that tried to defeat us. And so, that’s why that term–I’m really passionate about that term if you can’t tell. But, I’m really advocating that that term be used especially for individuals that have overcome trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Sandra Morgan 4:53
I loved it. And when I read on your website, under the part–just so people can find it–you have a word from the founder. And what you really did for me is you’ve framed the complexity of what it means to become an overcomer. We sometimes have, I don’t know, an instant idea of going from victim to survivor when someone comes out of human trafficking, and especially out of sex trafficking. But, you set this stage for building normalcy into your life. Nothing was normal. You were embedded in a life of trauma that affected every aspect of your life. So, you actually included a term, break the cycle of toxicity, and you talk about a trauma cycle. Can you explain what that means for us to better understand?

Kathy McGibbon Givens 6:03
Absolutely. And as you stated, once someone has come out of the life of trafficking, a victim, I think what people need to understand and what people need to hear is that the psychological chains are so much stronger than the physical chains, than the physical captivity. So, just because I escaped, just because an individual escaped their perpetrator or their trafficker, doesn’t mean that they’re free at that moment. There are certain things that you have to work it and re-learn. So for me, particularly, I had to re-learn how to engage in society again. I had to learn how to be an upright citizen again. It didn’t all come naturally, because everything was stripped away from me. My voice was taken from me. My identity was almost taken from me. So, everything was kind of wrapped up in that, that lifestyle. So, when I came out and was reintegrated, there are things that I had to do step-by-step to make sure that my healing journey progressed. Things like looking people in the eye. I had to learn that, that didn’t come naturally to me. Getting a job. It was so hard for me to get a job because I had the skills, but I couldn’t break again that mental and that psychological hold that was on me that kept me bound in shame and guilt. So it was really hard for me to focus, right? And then that mentality of survival was very real because if I felt like, ‘Okay, well, this one job isn’t paying all the bills, I have to make sure that I have my own and that I can take care of myself so I’m going to the next very quickly.’ I had to learn all of these things all over again. And so, the cycle that I speak of, of toxicity, is very, very real because those chains that I talked about, they follow you even into your healing journey, right? Even after you’ve escaped that life. So how do we break them? We have to break them by applying, you know, good skills, positive behaviors, and practicing, and therapy, and counseling. All those things are key to breaking these invisible chains that are so very, very real to survivors of trafficking.

Sandra Morgan 8:16
So, this cycle of toxicity, the way you describe it, sounds to me like you’re on a merry-go-round and you can’t get off, and you just keep doing the same things over and over again. And, you talk about getting unstuck. For someone–and I have worked for years now with survivors, and I have seen exactly what you’re talking about, the job cycle, this didn’t work, that didn’t work, we started again, and then we went through the same process. You also mentioned securing an apartment. That housing piece is huge. So how do we get unstuck? How do you get out of that cycle?

Kathy McGibbon Givens 9:02
Yeah, so there’s definitely the mental psychological component, right. And again, trying to fill those voids and fill those negative behaviors and those negative thought processes and negative mindsets with positive ones. So, for me, that looked like being around people, positive people. A support network was crucial for my recovery, for my restoration process. I don’t know that we’d be here today if I did not have the strength of good solid support system, because trying to do it alone was just really, really hard. Another thing, too, is that there were things on my record because of the things that I was forced to do under the duress of my former trafficker. I came out with bad credit, I came out with lack of employment skills. I came out with a big F on my record, on my criminal history, a felony. So, you know, in addition to all the psychological damage and just rebuilding my identity again, how in the world was I going to survive with all of these things attached now to my name, with the credit issues, all the criminal record, and all of those things play a factor. So, without the strength of community, I don’t know that I would have. For me, I was able to tap into resources and get people that would give me a second chance at employment and housing. I would just go in and share my story and ‘Hey, this is what I’ve been through. You know, it was not my fault that I have this, I don’t know what else to do, but I don’t have anywhere else to live. Will you let me into your apartment complex?’ And it was hard. It was hard because I always had to tell the story. So, no matter what, I always had to remember what I had gone through. And so for some, that process is too hard. Number one, repeating the cycle, repeating the story over and over again, some people would just rather not do it. I’ll just go back to the life because it’s too hard for me to get what I need because I don’t want to keep reliving that stuff. You know, every application that I put in, I have to tell that story. And then too, just the barriers, the barriers to thrive are really difficult. So, I honestly say that community was the number one thing for me. In my faith, that was the number one thing for me that kept me going like, okay, don’t quit, don’t quit, because somebody will say yes. I had tons of applications turned away but, I just had to believe that someone will say yes because I just couldn’t go back. But it’s really, really hard to break that cycle.

Sandra Morgan 11:35
The terminology you used in your statement here is an unrelenting support from people who understood my journey. How do you build a support group? I saw that you put together support groups. So, because of your experience, you probably do it differently than I do.

Kathy McGibbon Givens 11:58
Right. And I think that’s what it is. It’s more so of the support groups that we run, are more so ‘Hey, I understand. We have this relatable experience.’ And it’s not super comprehensive, it’s just ‘Hey, I understand.’ Literally, that’s like the tagline, I understand what you’re going through. And that draws people in when people listen. It’s very different than the comprehensive programming and all the things that are needed. Because support group is a way for people to get away from that, like, ‘Oh, wait,’ like I can come to a place that’s not a program and I can come to a place that’s not, you know, there’s a bunch of data that they’re going to collect for me. And I can come to a place where I don’t have to relive over and over my trauma, but I can actually come to a place where people understand what I’ve been through. That’s the power and the strength of the support groups, and even for allies. So, people that don’t have lived experience in trafficking or sexual exploitation, but to say that, hey, I understand because I have my own trauma, or I see you as a person, I see you as a human being, I see beyond your trauma. Those are the people that connect the most with individuals who have lived this life via support groups, in these support groups. So, I cherish those times, even for me it’s refilling and replenishing even to be around individuals that have similar experiences.

Sandra Morgan 13:16
So, let’s be really practical. Tell us what the guidelines are for setting up a support group? Does it need to be all survivors overcomers?

Kathy McGibbon Givens 13:28
If you are going to reach overcomers and survivors in a way that says I know exactly what you’ve been through, it needs to be peer-led. It needs to be led by overcomers and survivors because you never want to say yes, I get it. Because, yes, I get it means so many things to survivors. So, if you say, ‘Yes, I get it. Come to our support group,’ you need to make sure that you have overcomers and survivors there that can relate. If you don’t, that is totally fine. To answer your question, no, allies and anyone can run a support group if you have the compassion and the heart to understand people. So the first thing you want to do is figure out your lane. What is it that you’re trying to gather people for? What is your purpose? What do I myself want out of this support group? Because once you identify what that is within you, then you can be practical and narrow down your focus on who you want to participate in your support group. And then you want to make sure that you have experience in leading or you bring on an experienced leader, people that can gather people, people that can navigate conversations, that can moderate conversations, and that people that are just, again, no bias. No bias at all. This is a place that people need to come to feel free, to share without being judged or anything like that about what they’ve been through. So, I would say definitely, yes, it’s open to both overcomers and allies alike.

Sandra Morgan 14:51
So, are there any rules that are like in writing?

Kathy McGibbon Givens 14:56
Absolutely. So, we particularly have a guideline. And it’s just, we don’t say rules, but it’s a guideline. Things like: be respectful. Confidentiality; everything that’s shared in support group needs to be kept in support group. We also have, in terms of people’s journey, and where they are in their journey, we don’t expect everyone to come out and expose this is what I’m going through, this is what I’ve done. But, we do rely on, accountability for oneself. Meaning, if you are at a place in your journey where you know that you are probably still caught up in toxicity and maybe you’re not ready for that next step of support, then we would ask that you be honest. So the honor system is a part of that as well. And then honoring other people’s journeys as well. So not, no competition, we actually have that in writing. No competing with, with other people’s journeys, you know, it can be very–

Sandra Morgan 15:54
Wait, wait, okay. This is new for me. No competition. What kind of competition are you talking about?

Kathy McGibbon Givens 16:01
Yeah, it’s very real. And it’s a part of the survivor’s journey too. In some cases, as a part of restoration, and as a part of healing, you feel like well, once you find your voice, you’re like, I don’t want to let it go. So, I’ve been through this and my story is worse than yours. That right there is something that we try to avoid and eliminate once we see it, call it out, once we see it in support group. So there’s no competition of whose story is worse than whose, or who requires more services than the other, or who requires more attention than the other, or who walked through trafficking the longest, and all of that stuff. Everyone is equal. It doesn’t matter if someone was trafficked for two days or if someone was trafficked for 20 years. Everyone that comes to support group needs to be seen as equal. So, that competition of like, ‘Well, I was in longest, so I know more,’ that is a real thing. And so, I think it needs to, I’m glad that you asked that question because it needs to be addressed that it’s just a part of the healing journey. Once you find your voice, you want everybody to know that ‘Hey, I’m here now.’ And so, that can be very toxic. That’s toxic behavior, that’s not acceptable. So, we address that and we nip it in the bud right away.

Sandra Morgan 17:14
Okay, so now, coach me. I’m in your support group, and I’m an ally. How do I respond when someone shares part of their story? Obviously, I can’t say I understand.

Kathy McGibbon Givens 17:29
You cannot say that you understand, but you can say that I see you and that I hear you. So as an ally, I would advise, and this is across the board, allow people to share their stories how they want to share their experiences. So, let them navigate the conversation. You’re just there for a listening ear, and to offer professional advice if needed. If you know that this is what this individual is wanting, like, I really am messed up right now, or, you know, if you feel like they’re a harm to themselves or others, then obviously, yes, jump in and offer. But, for the most part, your primary goal is to be the listener. And so yes, I hear you. Yes, I see you. Yes, I acknowledge you. Yes, you matter. That is the kind of approach that we use and that I tell people, I advise people on, to use when you’re talking with survivors and overcomers. Because if they’ve come to support group nine times out of ten, it’s because they want to be heard. So, they may not be heard in their workplace, they may not be heard even in their families, they may not be heard, they may not feel like they’re even being heard in these programs, in counseling. But, when they come to support group, they can be heard. This is the place where my voice can be heard.

Sandra Morgan 18:39
Okay. So, your mission statement uses one of my favorite words, our listeners know, I love the word sustainable. It starts out with “to provide sustainable resources and a community of support to foster personal development for those overcoming sex trafficking and sexual exploitation as they transition from surviving to thriving.” So, everything you’re saying here. I think where our community needs to get unstuck as allies is what does sustainable look like? How do we do that?

Kathy McGibbon Givens 19:22
Holistically. So, in helping individuals that have been affected by this, we have to bring it down from the macro and really focus on the micro, and I know that’s hard, especially because when we’re like we’re trying to help as many people as possible and I’m trying to reach as many people as possible. But, that is not, in my opinion, the best approach because we’re talking about people’s lives. And so, we have to get to know the person holistically. Where did this person come from? What environment did they come from? Is there historical trauma, you know, like on top of their trafficking experience? I need to get to know this person so that I can best provide sustainable resources to them. And when we talk about sustainable that means tapping into what they actually like. What are their passions? What are their desires? What is their preference on what environment they should live in? Once we start to understand the whole person, then we can provide the resources that will be sustainable. So, sometimes it’s like, oh, you know, once they’ve survived trafficking, we can plug them into a job, and that’s great. But if they actually hate being around people, and we’ve plugged them into work at a coffee shop, then they’re not going to thrive there. That’s not sustainable. So we have to get to know the whole person so that we can provide sustainable resources.

Sandra Morgan 20:39
Wow, you’re talking about people over programs. That’s the kind of language that I use. And I have encountered so many programs that produce great statistics, but ultimately, I don’t see an overcomer, I see someone who’s been through seven programs. That’s why we need to get unstuck. I think your web page framed things so differently. I encourage listeners to go to twelve11.org and look at the website. So here’s one of the first things that jumped out to me, and I want you to explain how you came to this decision. You offer your services differently than others do. There are statements, and the survivor, the overcomer, has to click on a button that says, ‘I’m ready to have a career.’ ‘I’m ready to have a home.’ Tell me about that.

Kathy McGibbon Givens 21:48
Absolutely. So, we believe in partnership. This is complete, giving the survivor overcomer complete agency over their lives. They are the ones that have to navigate through their healing journey. We just want to come on as partners. Twelve11 is just there to be a partner. So, instead of saying, you know, it kind of dismantled that savior mentality as well, right. We are not offering to save anyone, we are not offering to change anyone’s life immediately. Being survivor-led, I think that helped me with the vision of Twelve11, is like, no one could have saved my life. And no one could have turned my life around for the better. I actually had to put in the work as well. Now, offering resources and offering opportunities, increasing those opportunities in platforms was what I needed. But, there was no one that could say, ‘Hey, I’m going to fix your life.’ It was something that, again, talking about those invisible chains, it was something that I had to work through. Is something in me that had to ignite to say, ‘Yes, I want this for real’. And not just because I need shelter for the moment or temporary assistance, but no, I really, really want this. And so I’m going to take initiative to reach out and tap into those resources. We offer partnership, we don’t offer the savior mentality. We don’t offer anyone the best life ever. That’s not what this is. So, I think that’s where that comes from. I know for sure that’s where that comes from is that, you know, we just want to walk alongside individuals. And if an individual chooses to, you know, gets to the part of their journey where they’re like, yeah, I want housing, or yeah, I think that I’m ready to advance in my career. We want to be there to help provide some of those resources.

Sandra Morgan 23:34
Well, and it seems like your mentoring program is a big piece of that walking alongside someone. And we’ve got a little over five minutes to finish and I want to focus on how to be a successful mentor in this space. And, how do you train mentors? Layout a really great overcomers mentoring program for us.

Kathy McGibbon Givens 24:01
Absolutely. You definitely, for us, research first. So, we took a step back and looked at the landscape. We took a step back and met with other survivors and overcomers. We take a step back and just really figured out, okay, where are the gaps? Where are people missing it? And that kind of helped us create this framework for this mentorship program. So, we offer mentorship circles. And in those circles is a survivor partner. This is the one that has complete agency and navigation over their life. An ally, partner, mentor. This is the person that without lived experience, but has the passion and the desire. We also have a career mentor. This is an individual that is focused solely on ‘I want to help you develop those skills to advance in your career.’ And then in that circle, we also have the peer mentor. The peer mentor is someone with lived experience that can say I got you, I can relate. And so now they’re going through life with this small community. The goal is to increase and their community and plug them into a supportive network. And what it also does for the mentor is it reduces burnout, because it is hard, people get into mentorship and think that ‘Oh, I just want to walk alongside because I have this compassion.’ But it is hard. Because you’re literally saying that I’m investing in someone’s life, you’re literally saying that I want to be here for every moment of your life and to see that see you succeed, because it’s not a part-time job. And so with our mentor circles, we have created the community that is both supportive to the survivor partner and supportive to the mentors. And we did that, again, through listening and evaluating where the gaps are. One of the main gaps that we identified was lack of community. So, we wanted to make sure that our mentor program had community from the start, not just one-on-one, but it had an option for community from the start. And then data, data, data data. You want to be able to effectively communicate to those that you’re serving where it is that they’re going based on their leadership. What does that mean? Great, you have someone that says, you know what, I, you know, I’ve been through program after program, and I really see myself going here, I really see myself starting my own nonprofit. You need to be able to speak intelligently to or to that person and say, ‘Okay, this is how we navigate that.’ Or, if you don’t have all the answers, this is where I can plug you in to get the resources. So, you have to be very familiar with the community that you’re in, your environment that you’re in when you’re talking about being a mentor because it’s more than just an inspiring and encouraging message. It’s literally helping people navigate their lives. And so you need to be knowledgeable on the resources to plug them into if you don’t have all the answers. And then I can’t reiterate enough, I know I’ve said this, but listening, listening, listening. Our mentor program is led by our survivor partners, so they need to be the ones who create their action plan. And we’re just there to support it.

Sandra Morgan 26:56
Okay, so this idea that having community mentors who are only from the ally community is part of the challenge of really getting stuck. I’ve watched this. And so we’ve got to do a better job of developing more balance in the mentoring experience. So, you’re talking about peer mentors. So, if you’re my partner in a mentoring circle, so you’re the peer mentor, I’m the ally mentor, do we all meet at the same time? I mean, I want to understand the nitty-gritty of this, how it works.

Kathy McGibbon Givens 27:38
Absolutely. So there’s one-on-one. So the survivor partner will meet one on one with the peer, meet one-on-one with an ally, and meet one-on-one with the career path, just depending on their career path. But then once a month, those circles will get together. And we’re all sitting down. And we’re talking about the goals of this action plan created by the survivor partner. So this is what I can bring to the table. This is what the career path mentor can bring to the table. This is what the Allied partner can bring to the table. And this is what the survivor partner can bring to the table. Because again, it’s a collaboration. It’s a partnership, right? And so, yes, to answer your question, we do meet once a month in those circles, and we’re there to support each other. We’re there to make sure that no one’s falling off, and no one’s you know, burned out and making sure that we’re all tapped into the resources, the same resources, and growing resources. And then also, it works because we’re delivering the same message to our survivor partner. So there’s no conflicting messages. There’s no like, ‘Oh, well, my career mentor said this. And my ally mentor said this.’ And then the peer mentor is very specific, very, has a very specific role in kind of helping to educate the ally, and the career, and what some of those crisis moments look like. So hey, this is what I would have done. You know, if you had a bad meeting with your survivor partner, this is what I would have done differently, or this is probably what I would be processing in my journey. So it’s collaborative, it’s a partnership for sure.

Sandra Morgan 29:09
Wow, that is outstanding. I’m so excited to learn more about having mentoring circles. It seems like that’s going to help us get off that cycle, that merry-go-round. Again, though, it is a circle. So we still are doing life in conjunction with what’s going on in our community. And, I’m looking forward to learning more. Maybe we can do an episode just about setting up mentoring circles because there’s a lot to be learned here. Our time is up. And Dave, this has been a really exciting conversation. Kathy, I just think you’re an amazing voice and leader and we look forward to having more conversations with you.

Kathy McGibbon Givens 30:02
I look forward to it as well. Thank you so much for having me.

Dave Stachowiak 30:05
Kathy and Sandy, thank you so much for such an insightful conversation. I’m thinking Sandy, particularly about Kathy’s invitation to, you know, when we’re dialoguing with someone to say, I see you, I hear you. That’s something that all of us can do better in almost every aspect of life, especially here. Thank you, Kathy, so much for your wisdom. And we’re inviting you now to take the next step. If you have not already, please hop online, and download a copy of Sandy’s guide, the Five Things You Must Know: A Quickstart Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. The guide teaches you the five critical things that Sandy has identified that you should know before you’ve joined the fight against human trafficking. You can get access to it by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. We’ll also have all the links there from this episode. And we mentioned the Ensure Justice Conference where Kathy was a speaker this past year. Our next Ensure Justice Conference is coming up on March 4th and 5th, 2022. If you would like to discover more early on, go over to ensurejustice.com. That’s the very best place to go to find out more about that conference and all the details for registration. And we will be back with you in two weeks. Always a pleasure, Sandy. Thank you.

Sandra Morgan 31:24
Thanks, Dave.

Dave Stachowiak 31:25
Take care, everybody.

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