Members in the Media
From: Pacific Standard

How Neuroscience Can Help Us Treat Trafficked Youth

The abuse began when Oree Freeman was eight years old. Her biological mother had given birth while in prison, so Freeman was adopted as an infant. But any trust or stability she’d learned during her early years with her adoptive mother was shattered when the mother’s boyfriend started molesting her.

“I didn’t tell anyone for a long time,” says Freeman, now a 22-year-old survivor advocate at Saving Innocence in Los Angeles. Instead, Freeman began acting out, misbehaving in school and fighting with peers. When she was sent to the school counselor for “bad” behavior, the counselor recognized signs of abuse and made a report to Child Protective Services.

Though her abuser went to jail, Freeman herself didn’t receive treatment for her trauma. And she continued to act out. By the time she was 11 years old, she’d spent time in juvenile hall for assaulting a classmate. She was still on probation when her mother’s boyfriend was released. When he returned to her home, she ran away.

Though the human brain is adaptable throughout life, adaptability is greatest during childhood, as the developing brain responds to the surrounding environment. Survival is the brain’s top priority. Young people growing up in dangerous environments will develop brains that are highly responsive to threat cues. In particular, recent studies show that children who have experienced trauma exhibit drastic changes in their amygdala, an area of the brain wired to identify signs of danger.

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