Night Watch

GSEP Community Counseling Center Supports Children Rescued from Prostitution

Night WatchYou are probably aware that child trafficking is sadly a common occurrence in many developing countries. But would you believe us if we told you that this abhorrent industry exists right here in our own backyard?

Children of the Night (COTN) is a privately funded nonprofit organization established in 1979 and dedicated to rescuing America’s children from the ravages of prostitution. The COTN home is open to child prostitutes throughout the country, and the COTN hotline is ready and able to rescue these children 24 hours a day. The GSEP Encino Community Counseling Clinic is proud to partner with COTN to provide the young girls and boys rescued overcome their trauma through therapeutic services.

“COTN is the only comprehensive social service program in the United States for children victimized by prostitution,” said Dr. Lois Lee, founder and president of COTN. “These children, typically abused by their first caregivers, are often invisible until they are arrested for prostitution or related crimes. In most cases, they have never received counseling to help them deal with their horrific childhoods. GSEP has a rare opportunity to develop successful treatment modalities and intervention programs for a special group of children whose unstable living environments make them inaccessible to other clinicians. For nearly four years, COTN and GSEP have been conducting groundbreaking work for this forgotten population.”

Children of the Night

GSEP’s student therapists at the Encino clinic provide free individual counseling to COTN’s residents, seeing them weekly or more frequently, depending on need. Many of the children suffer from acute and chronic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and some have additional presenting problems such as substance abuse, anger management, and psychotic and mood disorders.

The student therapists also experience challenges as providers. They must learn to cope with emotional responses such as vicarious traumatization resulting from empathic listening to stories of child sexual abuse and exploitation. “It is challenging to refrain from processing their trauma, when you just want to help them in the here and now,” said Shirley Pakdaman (MA ‘07), a doctor of psychology (PsyD) trainee.

Gaining the trust of the COTN clients is also difficult. “History of repeated victimization leads some of the children to develop mistrust in adults,” explained Dr. Anat Cohen, clinical faculty at GSEP and the director of the Encino Community Counseling Center. “Our therapists take great care to develop and nurture an accepting and validating relationship with the children. Only when there is evidence that such a relationship is forming do we offer the client an opportunity to process past trauma in a safe and supportive environment. In many cases, therapy is focused on daily challenges with emphasis on teaching effective problem-solving and coping skills. Our goal is to support the children and encourage them to take full advantage of the services the COTN program offers.”

Children of the Night

“It has been incredible to build a relationship with these girls and watch them evolve over time,” said PsyD trainee Roxana Zarrabi (MA ‘09). “It is amazing that, despite their difficult history, they are able to trust. We can learn a lot from their resilience.” April Hinrichsen, a marriage and family therapy (MFT) trainee, agreed: “These ladies are inspiring, and it is a privilege as a new therapist to learn from them.”

Nora McGilvray, another MFT trainee, noted that it is the supportive environment at COTN that makes it possible for them to create a safe and trusting atmosphere in the therapy room. Classmate Jessica Hupf echoed those sentiments: “COTN’s integrative approach is impressive. The organization offers recreational outings such as salon visits to build self-esteem, and scholarships for good grades. It is exciting to see our facilities collaborate to offer so much to these girls who really deserve it.”

Lee described COTN’s efforts as an attempt to “offer a structured setting for children to learn how to be children again.” For example, the COTN home offers an on-site school and college placement program, and after the children complete comprehensive academic and life-skills education, caseworkers provide ongoing support to graduates. At the same time, the children engage in counseling.

Children of the Night (COTN)

“Many of the children become teachers, executives, social workers, and managers—because people like the COTN staff and GSEP’s student therapists cared about them,” Lee stated proudly. “Just last year, one of our residents placed third in the Los Angeles County Science Fair. Another qualified as a Los Angeles County Junior Lifeguard after completing months of training. The accomplishments of these children are living proof of the magic that occurs when resources are available. Some things are meant to be, and the linkage between COTN and GSEP is a natural one.”

“It is inspirational to watch these girls, who come from extremely adverse circumstances, get a second chance at creating a healthy and happy future for themselves,” said PsyD trainee Tejal Shah. Fellow trainee Martha Orozco concurred: “It has been wonderful to see them grow into their potential, to see the strength and power they have within them, and their determination to achieve beyond expectations.”

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