Dr. Vanessa Snyder’s work with sex trafficking survivors has roots in her private practice. Two of her former clients received residential aftercare following their rescue from sex trafficking; however, they were not offered the type of treatment they most needed. Snyder then realized the care options typically available to sex trafficking survivors simply was not meeting the population’s unique needs. She brought her concerns to her advisor while in her doctoral program. “Nobody does that kind of treatment well,” she was told. Snyder made it her goal to design effective therapy for women, boys, and girls who have been rescued from the sex trade.

Currently, Snyder’s work with sex trafficking survivors is three-pronged. She conducts research, writes articles, and trains clinicians to provide the most effective care possible. Snyder works with Hope for Justice, a host organization for several shelters that operates out of Nashville, Tennessee. Snyder and the team at Hope for Justice research sex trafficking, best practices for treatment, and appropriate assessment batteries to develop successful treatment plans for use in aftercare facilities. Clinically speaking, Hope for Justice aims to empower trauma care providers, giving them the support and information they need in order to properly assess clients and provide the long-term care necessary for the population’s unique needs. However, the organization’s mission extends further into researching and training. Snyder and Hope for Justice have collected and analyzed data for three years on the effectiveness of aftercare residential treatment models. Teaming with Regent University, Snyder will set up additional research teams to expand the knowledge base further in the coming year.

Snyder also maintains a full presentation schedule. This spring, she will train aftercare providers in Virginia, on research, assessment, and treatment models for sex trafficking survivors. Helpers in the world of complex trauma care “often are not adequately equipped to deal with this type of client,” Snyder explains. Vicarious trauma in clinicians – and even at the organizational level – is common and frequently accompanied by burnout. However, Snyder does not limit her training simply to care providers. The National Conference on Crimes Against Women has invited her to speak in April at their convention in Dallas regarding trauma-informed treatment. Working with Purge Worldwide, Snyder regularly gives psychoeducational presentations to civil servants on the effects of trauma and “what it looks like” when dealing with traumatized women and children. Because 80% of individuals in the sex trade will see a doctor or a dentist while they are being trafficked, Snyder also presents at the Christian Medical and Dental Associations in order to educate medical professionals on the biological and emotional impact of trauma and how to recognize a trafficked person coming in for medical attention.

As it relates to the general population, Snyder cautions, “Failure to acknowledge the pervasiveness of trauma on the development of children and in the lives of adults is a significant threat to relationships, families, churches, and communities. With monetary cost in the billions, the cost to the human soul is immeasurable.” Snyder, and those involved in similar work, desperately need others to join the battle. “We need research!” she exclaims. “It’s not sexy, but we need hard data that shows what trauma survivors need. And we need people jumping in who will actually stay [in the field].” Often, students and professionals are excited at the prospect of saving lives, but Snyder explains this is insufficient. “We need people to stand by [sex trafficking survivors] and develop real relationships with them, relationships that keep them out of their former lifestyle. Without those relationships, they stand a high risk of returning to trafficking.” Admitting the pain that accompanies this kind of work, Snyder says, “Yes, it hurts, and it’s messy, but it’s what God called us to do. We are here to minister to orphans and widows. It’s part of the Gospel.”