Failing Motherhood

The Reality of Human Trafficking + How to Protect Your Kids with Alexandra Ford

October 31, 2023 Danielle Bettmann | Parenting Coach for Strong-Willed Kids Episode 128
Failing Motherhood
The Reality of Human Trafficking + How to Protect Your Kids with Alexandra Ford
Show Notes Transcript

Today's topic is a heavy one; dark and possibly triggering...but we don't leave you hanging. It's not one that I would advise playing in the car with kids around, but it is necessary listening if you aim to be an aware, conscious parent in today's society.

Alexandra Ford (previously Stevenson), a former trafficking victim turned activist, started her anti-trafficking work at 11 years old. 10 years later, she was trafficked. And it wasn't until another 10 years passed that she was able to identify what happened to her as trafficking. 

In today's episode, Alexandra not only walks us through her story, but depicts the truth about human trafficking: what it really is, why it's so hard to recognize and stop once you're in it, and what's actually worth spending your time on as a parent to protect your kids.

IN THIS EPISODE, WE COVERED...

  • How human trafficking is different from the movies;  much closer to home, yet harder to recognize
  • The progression of the relationship that binds and traps victims
  • Practical things we can implement in each age and stage to help prevent our kids from being susceptible to this path

DON'T MISS-

  • How to put traffickers out of business for good


// MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE //
American Human Trafficking Hotline-
1-888-373-7888  Text* 23333
Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline-
1-833-900-1010

// CONNECT WITH ALEXANDRA FORD //
Website / Book Waitlist:  TheLaughingSurvivor.com
Instagram:  @thelaughingsurvivor

I believe in you + I'm cheering you on.
Come say hi!  I'm @parent_wholeheartedly on Insta.
Schedule your FREE Consultation: wholeheartedly.as.me/call

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Alexandra Stevenson  0:00  
But it wasn't until I had a coffee with a new friend, literally 10 years after that whole experience where I'm telling her I know absolutely nothing about human trafficking, but I've experienced domestic violence. So maybe I can help you can teach me and I can help. And when I shared my story with her, she was like, what you're telling me is trafficking, like you were trafficked? And now I'm sitting here with all these degrees going, how the hell? What? Wait, what, of all people in the field that I've been working in? I should know this! And I don't know it. So if I don't know what human trafficking is, and it happened to me, and I work in the criminology, victimology, you know, social services field, then how the hell is anyone else supposed to know about it? And how are they supposed to protect themselves and their kids?!

Danielle Bettmann  0:53  
Ever feel like you suck at this job...motherhood, I mean? Have too much anxiety, and not enough patience? Too much yelling, not enough play. There's no manual, no village, no guarantees. The stakes are high. We want so badly to get it right. This is survival mode. We're just trying to make it to bedtime. So if you're full of mom guilt, your temper scares you. You feel like you're screwing everything up. And you're afraid to admit any of those things out loud....this podcast is for you. This is Failing Motherhood. I'm Danielle Bettmann. And each week we'll chat with a mom ready to be real. Sharing her insecurities, her fears, her failures and her wins. We do not have it all figured out. That's not the goal. The goal is to remind you, you are the mom your kids need. They need what you have. You are good enough and you're not alone. I hope you pop in ear buds, somehow sneak away, and get ready to hear some hope from the trenches. You belong here, friend. We're so glad you're here. 

Danielle Bettmann  2:05  
Hey, it's Danielle. I'm so glad you're here. Today's topic is a heavy one; dark and possibly triggering...but we don't leave you hanging. It's not one that I would advise playing in the car with kids around, but it is necessary listening if you aim to be a an aware, conscious parent in today's society, especially working on prevention. We're talking about human trafficking and we have a lot to learn from my guest today. Alexandra Stevenson, a former trafficking victim turned activist started her anti trafficking work at 11 years old. 10 years later, she was trafficked. And it wasn't until another 10 years passed that Alexandra was able to identify what happened to her as trafficking. With a candid storytelling approach and strong economic background. She bridges communities, educates on tough subjects and empowers change, she co- founded Uprising in Wyoming, her personal brand, The Laughing Survivor in British Columbia as well. In today's episode, Alexandra not only walks us through her story, but depicts the truth about human trafficking: what it really is, why it's so hard to recognize and stop once you're in it, and what's actually worth spending your time on as a parent. While it's heartbreaking to hear and can easily send us spiraling with fear underground, she also emphasizes really practical things we can implement in each age and stage to help prevent our kids from being susceptible to this path. 

Danielle Bettmann  3:37  
As we wrap up, she shares, in my opinion, the most important piece: how to put traffickers out of business for good. So share this episode with an anxious friend, so they have more understanding and tools in their pocket, and check out the resources listed in the show notes. Let's dive in. 

Danielle Bettmann  4:00  
Welcome to Failing Motherhood. My name is Danielle Bettmann. And on today's episode, I'm joined by Alexandra Stevenson. Welcome. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Alexandra Stevenson  4:10  
Hi, thank you. I love the name of your podcast.

Danielle Bettmann  4:15  
Well, when you came across my inbox, it said that you were known for swear words and dark humor and talking about real shit in authentic ways. And I was like, All right, we can get along. I need to have her on.

Alexandra Stevenson  4:29  
I love that. Yes, I can see the link there. Absolutely.

Danielle Bettmann  4:34  
Yes. Yeah. So we're not gonna focus too much on your motherhood journey because you have so much depth to your story and like so much you know, topic content we want to be able to get into and all the wisdom there to share with listeners but I always like to reassure all my listeners that you are not perfect. And that even though you're an expert on something, you don't have it all together. So have you ever felt like you were failing motherhood?

Alexandra Stevenson  4:56  
Like every day? Absolutely. Every day. Yes. But when you bring this up, there's one instance that sort of flashes in my mind. And it especially because how you worded it like you're an expert in some areas, but you know, so it was actually when you're potty training my son, and I was like, I've done the research because I leaned into research for everything. And I was like, Okay, we're going to do this, we're going to do the three day method, you know, they're totally naked the first day, it's going to be great, it'll be fine. I wasn't in the least bit worried about it, because I don't really care about mess or anything like that. And when we started the first day, now, he's never really run around without a diaper or anything at this point. So he really doesn't understand why he's, he's bottomless, why he's naked. And so he's screaming, I want to be naked, don't touch my penis, just like having a meltdown. And I had my very own meltdown. Because my body, because of my trauma, which we'll talk about, my body registered him screaming that as like a major traumatic event, a sexual assault-type traumatic event to him when he was more just like, the wind is touching me and it feels weird, and I don't like that. But for me, I ended up having this like, three day meltdown, he potty trained great, he had no issues, he's like knock on wood never had an accident. But I just like checked out mentally, I couldn't participate. I couldn't be there. I was snappy. And all of this, I don't even remember much of what happened. And it really brought me in check of like, I walked into this with so much confidence. And I I sucked at it. And for ways that I was absolutely not expecting to come up at all. And so that to me was just this like big. You can be as prepared as you want to be. And you it could all still just not work or fall apart. And yeah, that's that's really what kind of came to mind failing motherhood. That was the first instance I was like, I can't do this. Yeah, I don't know what I'm doing. This is terrible. Everything's terrible.

Danielle Bettmann  6:57  
That's such a perfect analogy for motherhood. Like, as a whole, you can be as prepared as you think you want to be. And you can be so confident and be blindsided by problems. You could not have possibly anticipated that humble you in ways you never also thought were possible.

Alexandra Stevenson  7:15  
100% Yes.

Danielle Bettmann  7:19  
Well, welcome. You're in the right place, you are one of us. And we're so glad you're here to be able to have a front row seat to learn from you today. And it's really an honor for us to have you. So let's go ahead and dive in. I know that you have a story. And that story ends in like a whole bunch of accolades. I think like a bachelor's and postgraduate certification, and Master's and all these good things. So tell us what those are first, and then we can circle back to how those came to be.

Alexandra Stevenson  7:51  
Absolutely. I love that. Yeah, I'm gonna start out really, really shiny. And then I'm going to show you all my dark parts. Yeah. I love that. So I have a Bachelor of Social Science in Criminology. I have a post graduate certification in Victimology with honors. I have an honors diploma in Community and Justice Services. And I have a Masters of Science in Psychology, graduated summa cum laude.

Danielle Bettmann  8:19  
Yeah, no big deal.

Alexandra Stevenson  8:22  
I'm a huge nerd. Huge nerd.

Danielle Bettmann  8:24  
We love that though. But like, so did that come to be because that was always your dream as a kid, or, you know, take us take us through the whole backstory?

Alexandra Stevenson  8:33  
Well, yeah. Okay, so we're going right into the dark parts. Yes. So absolutely. I was a huge nerd as a kid. Throughout my adolescence, early adolescence, as every kid does you, like try on different things, right? Am I athletic am I creative? And my cool, the answer was absolutely no to all of those things. But when I found advocacy, that's where I really found my niche. And that was at about 11 years old, a teacher had read us a story about child labor and child exploitation in other countries. And about a boy about a couple years older than me from Toronto. I live just outside Toronto, who had started a nonprofit of kids helping kids kids, like kids in Canada, helping kids who had fled or been freed from child labor in other countries. And it was the first realization to me that like, Wait, everybody doesn't just have a happy family at home, what?! Weird, And I got involved. 

Alexandra Stevenson  9:27  
So at 11 years old, instead of attending my first school dance, I was stuffing school and health kits to send overseas to kids. And you know, instead of getting into trouble after school, or you know, I don't know what kids did at that age, because I was knocking on doors collecting signatures for a petition to send to our government. And I'm pretty sure you know, as a parent Now, if that was my kid doing that I just be like brushing my shoulders off like I have won the child lottery, you know, like I have this kid is just - keep doing you. I have no more parenting to do like you're parenting yourself at this point. Yeah. The problem was a that really didn't endear me to my peers, right? Like that didn't make me a cool kid by any stretch of the imagination. Now, my hairier was my unibrow and my round speckled glasses and majorly buck teeth because I sucked my thumb until I was like 10 also didn't make me a cool kid. So I was, understandably, I was really, really desperate for love and acceptance as everyone that age is. But because I was so ostracized by my peers, I was a little bit extra desperate. So when my best friend's uncle, who was in his 30s showed me special attention, it felt really, really good. And I wasn't able to understand it as sexual assault for another five years. And it went on, it wasn't one instance it went on, I was groomed and assaulted for about five years. 

Alexandra Stevenson  10:53  
And during that time, for a lot of it, I knew something was wrong, because I knew not to tell anyone, he made it very clear not to tell anyone. But part of me also really told myself the story that I was a mature and worldly, you know, teenager who was so attractive that, you know, this 30 year old man couldn't keep his hands off me. That's the story I kept telling myself because that made me feel loved. The problem was, like I said, I also knew it wasn't okay. I was really, really smart kid. 

Alexandra Stevenson  11:23  
And so even though I was trying to tell myself this story, I was also subconsciously trying to numb pain. So I started moving away from the advocacy work towards drugs. And so while I think a lot of people have heard the idea that like marijuana weed is a gateway drug. I'd like to challenge that and suggest that for most people, it's trauma that is the gateway drug. And then, for me, I started smoking weed, doing mushrooms, doing ketamine, doing ecstasy. And by the time I was 18-19 years old, I was doing meth pretty regularly. It's always hard to be like, Oh, that was just not your best choice. 

Alexandra Stevenson  12:04  
So a lot of people at this point usually asked, like, Where were your parents? Right? How did they not notice this? How did they notice you went from being a golden child to a meth addict? Well, I was a very functional addict. So that meant I held out a job, I'd graduated high school, I've gotten pretty good grades. I didn't suddenly start wearing black eyeliner, and you know, listening to emo music the way they do in a movie montage of, you know, a teenage girl going down the wrong path. So I kept up appearances for the most part. And my parents were also going through a separation from, you know, struggling with their marriage. When I was in my mid teens through till I think they separated officially when I was my teen or 20. So they obviously had their own focus. Now, at 19, I was managing a tanning salon, two tanning salons, doing meth in the evenings, you know, managing tanning salons by day. And when the town drug dealer came in to my tanning salon and showed interest in me, I was like, yes, seems like a really good idea. It's like financially responsible date, the person who you would normally get your drugs from. So we started dating. And it was really, really quick before he turned to me and said, you know, we're doing more of the drugs than we're selling. We need to supplement our income. Do you want to help? And I was like, Yeah, for sure. Because I thought it sort of elevated my status, right? I wasn't just the wifey, I was now a business partner, sort of what we did was we pulled- we started out by pulling these heists, I would use my sexuality at this point, which I was very disconnected from, because of the sexual abuse I had endured throughout my entire puberty and teenagehood. I used it to distract people. And while people were distracted, he would steal whatever he could that we could pawn, we, you know, have a couple extra bucks here and there. Now a couple things that are worth knowing is one, our relationship was already violent. And I had already tried to break up with him. And he had threatened me pretty badly. So I wasn't able to end things. And then when he suggested, you know, my, my job become less ornamental and more physical. And I was like, yeah, no, I don't really want to do that. He turned around, he was like, Oh, do you want everyone to know you've been stealing from them? And it became really clear right away that we were not partners. I was not in control. And from that moment on, he was in full control to the point where, you know, one day we'd be at the strip club, and I suddenly felt my feet leave the floor, and I was deposited on stage and told don't get down until you've made me some money, or several instances waking up in skeezy motel rooms with really bad memory of what had happened. And he'd be telling me oh, God, you really need to learn to handle your liquor. You know, you're an embarrassment. You're so lucky I love you. And I took care of you. Now came find out later, I'd had one drink, he'd put GHB in it. And then he'd used the time that I was unconscious or semi conscious to take photos of me and sell those photos. So that was a whole disaster. To put it lightly.

Danielle Bettmann  15:15  
Understatement of the year.

Alexandra Stevenson  15:16  
Yeah, understatement of the year. And so I, we weren't actually together that long, and I ended up escaping and I escaped by going to post secondary education. That's a whole other story, because he came and found me about a year, year and a bit later, and we ended up going through a court process and all of that I had a had to drop out of school, when he came to find me because I had to go into hiding, he got out of jail, found me again, I was in the process of trying to go further into hiding, not really knowing if I was ever going to be free. And he ended up in an altercation in our hometown, and he died. And that was sort of the end of that for me. 

Danielle Bettmann  15:55  
Wow. 

Alexandra Stevenson  15:55  
And then from there, I just like nerded out for the next 10 years, collecting all those degrees, and certifications and all of that. But it wasn't until I had a coffee with a new friend, literally 10 years after that whole experience where I'm telling her I know absolutely nothing about human trafficking, but I've experienced domestic violence. So maybe I can help you can teach me and I can help. And when I shared my story with her, she was like, what you're telling me is trafficking, like you were trafficked? And now I'm sitting here with all these degrees going, how that help? What? Wait, what, of all people in the field that I've been working in? I should know this? And I don't know it. So if I don't know what human trafficking is, and it happened to me, and I work in the criminology, victimology, you know, social services field, then how the hell is anyone else supposed to know about it? And how are they supposed to protect themselves and their kids? So that is what launched me into the anti-human trafficking field.

Danielle Bettmann  16:59  
Well, yeah, that's a Launchpad, if you ever needed one...

Alexandra Stevenson  17:03  
Yes. 

Danielle Bettmann  17:04  
The giant springboard of sorts. Oh, my god, yeah. So that you summed it up so perfectly? Like if you weren't able to connect the dots, how is anyone supposed to- that's behind your journey in awareness and acknowledgement, and learning and research and all the things?

Alexandra Stevenson  17:23  
Absolutely, including I had, like I finally had gone to the police, we went through a court case, the word trafficking was never brought up. You know, there's so many gaps there, where I'm like, human trafficking was not talked about in 2007, which is, you know, when this happened, or certainly not talked about publicly, even now, we're working on educating law enforcement, because not not all, law enforcement understand it. But I know why it happened. But I still have to kind of work through that anger of the fact that I wore the shame of thinking of my experience as domestic violence and a series of my own bad choices for 10 years before someone explained to me what coercive control is, and psychological control and all of that, which is what encompasses human trafficking.

Danielle Bettmann  18:10  
Yeah, I mean, the weight of that shame, had to be so strong for so long.

Alexandra Stevenson  18:17  
Yeah, it's interesting, a lot of people who heard my story or who friends who are around while I was dating, my trafficker, and I still, I still have a hard time calling him that, because it's still weird to me to think of that I've heard so many times, I never, I didn't know half of that. I knew he was crazy and abusive, and all of that. But I didn't know half of this other information. And I'm like, I didn't tell you because I wasn't about to promote that. As far as I was seeing it, I had made a bad choice that led to me selling my body. And there's not a lot of empathy for people over the women over the age of 18, who find themselves on stage at a strip club, or in a bedroom with someone and taking money afterwards. Right?

Danielle Bettmann  19:01  
Not only there's not a lot of empathy, there's even more misinformation and you know, misunderstandings, and yeah, like false blame, and just no, no real understanding of what that looks like, and how to be able to detect it and what to do about it and how to prevent it, which is, you know, where we'll get our conversation to, hopefully, by the end of today, but, you know, take us through that vocabulary lesson. What are some of those concepts you just named like coercive control, or trauma bonding, or, you know, some of these things? What, what do we need to know as like a 101?

Alexandra Stevenson  19:37  
Absolutely. So first thing, what is human trafficking? Right, because I think so many things, so many people, myself included, until I learned more thought or would think of human trafficking as either the movie Taken, right. So what happens overseas doesn't happen in Canada or in America? It happens to those people over there, right? Whatever that means in your brain, if it doesn't happen to us, it happens to those people. Or it is a huge crime ring with a Russian oligarch or something like this and you're put in a cage and sold like, you know, in an auction. That can be, not saying that doesn't exist, but what we need to realize is what is more common in domestic human trafficking. So what happens within our borders is I don't want to call it smaller, because I don't want to diminish it. It's it's a massive, painful crime. But it can be as simple as a boyfriend saying, Look, we're not going to make rent I um- you better go down to the landlord, and, you know, offer him a blow job to get a couple 100 bucks off rent or something. So I'll give a quick definition. And I'm not going to get the legal one because it's filled with legalese. And...

Danielle Bettmann  20:49  
Oh, yeah, we wouldn't understand that.

Alexandra Stevenson  20:50  
...confusing to me! But human trafficking is compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. This coercion can be subtle. Moreover, it can be physical or psychological. So I'm not talking about people in cages or handcuffed in basements, most survivors I know, were completely physically free the whole time, like myself. It's the psychological coercion. So that kind of brings us to that next piece, which I'll talk about trauma bonding as well like what is psychological coercion, it is somebody who coerces or convinces you through manipulation, maybe threats of violence towards you, or people you love, or threats of shame or outing you or whatever it is, to do something. And more often than not in trafficking you don't have someone who just like walks up to you and is like, if you don't sell your body for this amount of money, I'm going to do this right. Like, most people would be like, Yeah, fuck you, I'm not gonna do that. Thank you. Like, I'm absolutely not doing that, that I see no benefit to this. So how do they get people to do it? Through trauma bonds, through grooming, and trauma bonds. So the stages of grooming starts with identifying a victim. This is where it's really important for us to understand that most people same with sexual assault, you know, obviously, domestic violence, but it is not a stranger kidnapping situation. That happens, but rarely. Most people are trafficked by someone they know, love and trust. Now, this may be someone who's within their inner circle, a family member, a boyfriend, a coach, a teacher, whatever. Or it could be someone they met online, who has taken the time to build trust and fill their needs. Now, that's the second stage of grooming. And that is where they're going to be the most interested in you than any other human has ever been. They're gonna ask all the questions, they're gonna figure out what you don't say, and between the lines of what you do say. So do you feel unseen by your parents, because your older sibling gets all the accolades and is awesome at something? Do you feel like you your family doesn't have the finances to have the same things that the cool kids at school have? Do you really need a parental figure in your life, right, they're going to figure this out, and they're going to fill those needs in whatever way to bond you to them. Next, they're going to start isolating you a little bit. Now again, this is not locking you in a basement. It's more like, hey, come hang out with me on my side of town. That's where my friends are, right? Why are you always messaging your girlfriends, they don't understand you like I do. I love you know what I'd really prefer if you put your phone away while we were together, right? These sorts of things. This is the isolation, psychological isolation, I'm the only one who can love you properly. I'm the only one who understands you, then they'll flip the script. So now you're like, I'm in love, or I'm bonded to this person, or I trust them or whatever it is. And then they'll be like, yeah, those things I gave you weren't free, like, do you think I'm made of money, I'm gonna, we're gonna need to find a way for you to pay this back. And however they do it, they'll flip the script. And then from there, they exploit. And the reason they take the time and that time to build trust, that can be, you know, five days, it might be five weeks, it might be five months. But it is so worth it. Because every bit of manipulation that they employ to create that trauma bond, if you think of all the different types of manipulation, as strands of rope, the more they employ, and you think of a trauma bond as a rope, the more they employ, the stronger that trauma bond is. And then that way, by the time they're like, you're gonna do this and you're like, I don't really want to, there's not really a choice, whether it's threats of violence, or you know, threats of, I'll leave you or you have to pay all this back, or those sexy photos we took are gonna go online, whatever it is, you're not getting away.

Danielle Bettmann  24:51  
Yeah. And you don't really, you don't really have the leg to stand on because they either have something that they can blackmail you with, or you've you know, given too many secrets that you don't want to get out, or they have the upper hand at that point. And so we're How does love bombing fit in? Is that you know, in that nurturing time?

Alexandra Stevenson  25:10  
Yeah, so that's in the building trust and filling needs. That is someone who says, I love you in the first five minutes, right? Who takes you on your second date to an all expenses paid weekend and Mexico? Someone I'm not just saying someone who really, really likes you like, it's kind of nuanced, right? But if your gut is like, Whoa, dude, that is, wow. Or you can't even feel that because no one has ever shown you this much love. And some of your friends or family or like, you know, a nice restaurant seems a little more appropriate than, you know, an all expenses paid trip on your second date, right? People around us tend to notice before we do, especially when we're bowled over by gifts and love and attention and just feeling so good because somebody sees you,

Danielle Bettmann  26:02  
right? And I'm sure it's hard because you're a little bit like drunk or blinded, that when family or friends want to push back and make you question, it makes you feel like well, they this is even more evidence that they don't understand me. Yes. So I'll just, you know, cut ties with this relationship.

Alexandra Stevenson  26:20  
And knowing a trafficker will know who your close relationships are, will pick up on how they interact with you, and will more than likely be able to kind of predict what their reactions will; they're going to tell you to stop seeing me. You know, they're going to tell you should take a break. Like what and so when the other people that people who are close in your life, say exactly what the trafficker predicted they will, it only strengthens your bond to the trafficker. Mm hmm. Yep. Like Well, of course he he told me you would say that.

Danielle Bettmann  26:53  
They're my mentor. They're my my, like, I need them now. Yeah, they're so smart. Like they saw this coming.

Alexandra Stevenson  26:58  
100% I think one of the best depending on how much you like animals graphically descriptive example, someone said once or gave me once is, if you try and put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it's going to jump right out, right? It's as this like, Absolutely not, I don't want to be in there. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, and very slowly turn off the heat, it will boil to death. And that is what the grooming process and, and trauma bonding. And all of that is they don't that's why I say they don't just one day be like, Yo, take your clothes off. They're like, they may you know, after you're intimate with them after you guys have some sexual intimacy. Be like wow, babe, that was really- do you want to get your nails done? Hmm. Oh, here's 50 bucks. i Why don't you go get your nails done. They're not giving you $50 For being intimate with them. But they are connecting the act of intimacy with a financial gain at the end. It is this subtle and twisted. Yeah,

Danielle Bettmann  27:58  
that's that's deceptive. Yeah.

Danielle Bettmann  28:18  
So big emotions from little people are running the show at your house. Is that right? Do they fall apart when something doesn't go their way? Just once, why can't they accept the fact that the answer is no. Am I right? The struggle is real. You're not alone, and you're in the right place. When your days are filled with relentless push back, it is so hard to feel like a good parent, especially when you're in laws aren't shy and sharing how they think your kids just need a good spanking. Every time you lose it, when they lose it, you feel like a failure. The worst part is, without addressing the root of your child's behavior, you're doomed to play a fruitless game of Whack a Mole reacting rather than preventing the next conflict. And next time, nothing's gonna go differently. The good news is, when you have a handful of effective discipline tools in your pocket, you're able to step into full confidence as their parent, parenting actually becomes a whole lot easier. I promise. You're not failing them. You just need more tools. So if you have a tiny human who's full of love, and yet so so difficult, if you can only be so nice for so long. If you've tried everything and still feel defeated on the daily, my free class, Authentic and Unapologetic is for you. In this free training, I share five huge misconceptions in parenting strong-willed kids that inadvertently invite defiance, four mistaken goals they're using their behavior to meet and what to do about it, how to let judgment roll off your back and truly feel like the parent your kids need, and why what you're currently doing just isn't working and isn't going to anytime soon. So go to parentingwholeheartedly.com/unapologetic To access this exclusive free training immediately. That's parentingwholeheartedly.com/unapologetic The link will be in the show notes.

Danielle Bettmann  30:46  
So, tell me more about how you said trauma is the gateway drug?

Alexandra Stevenson  30:51  
Yeah, I think trauma is a, it's a really big topic, right? Because there's, first of all everyone's trauma and how they how they experience it is different. Because, you know, my parents divorcing wasn't great. But I wouldn't count it as a major traumatic event in my life, but someone else their parents splitting up might be the most major traumatic event they've ever experienced. And I think the nuance and complication there makes so many people want to lean away from examining it too closely. So it's a lot easier to see, say rather weed as gateway drug, because weed is tangible. We know what it is. and Canada, it's legal, you know, it's this. It's a drug that we're like, all of us can agree weed, whatever you think about it, probably not on the same level as cocaine. Yeah, right. There is a continuum there that we all kind of have in our heads, it's maybe not exact, but it's a tangible starting point. Trauma is not really a tangible starting point. But in the research I've done in everything from examining paths into the commercial sex industry, both for people who are trafficked as well as people who claim themselves to be empowered sex workers. Trauma seems to be the connecting factor through most of it, people who seem to do really, really well and then went down a negative path. If you dig, there's usually trauma that becomes that crux or that turning point. So I had to stop before I did my PhD with small children at home just became a little much I would, I would absolutely have done my research on examining trauma as a gateway drug. And whether that is, you know, the amount of people who struggle with substance abuse issues, who struggle with emotional dysregulation issues, relationship issues, all of these things, how many of them experienced a major trauma that turned their life into where they're at now?

Danielle Bettmann  33:00  
Well, and I think that there's a huge correlation. And, you know, I'm sure parents out there at this point in the episode are freaking out a little bit. Because if anything bad ever happens to our kids, then you know, they're destined to this life. And there's, there's no stopping it, and I'll never know about it. And it sounds very scary. So, yeah, this is probably the time to help shift the understanding into what can we do as parents to better understand this process so that we can not only help our kids understand it, but know what is the biggest differentiations in having someone be able to exploit our kids vulnerabilities? Because I think you said somewhere I thought, like everything that you've done, but that everyone has vulnerabilities. It's not like we can make our kids you know, rock solid, impermeable, like no one will ever be able to build a relationship with them. So what can we do? What's important?

Alexandra Stevenson  33:58  
Great question. So first, let me throw this out there because this is what keeps my head on working in the field that I do with small children being like, Oh my God, I've just fucking them up for life is my goalposts as a parent is that I'm probably going to mess my kids up like not probably I'm gonna mess my kids up right at some point. But if if the goalposts are messed them up enough that they're funny at parties, but not so much that they're serial killers, like, we've got a pretty good pretty big area here that we can work with him. So that's sort of where I go with like, every time I mess up with my kids, I'm like, that's probably not the thing that will turn them into a serial killer. So we're still we're still in within the goalposts.

Danielle Bettmann  34:42  
We're good. That's completely fine.

Alexandra Stevenson  34:45  
What are some tangible things that parents can do? Right? That's we always we don't ever want to teach from a place of fear and have people walking away being like, Oh, my God, children come here. We're going underground. Literally. I'm going to start digging the hole. You're never allowed out. Oh, right, it's dangerous and scary, we don't want that. There are several things parents can do. One, talk to your kid about vulnerabilities. This is obviously age and- age and maturity appropriate. So it depends how old your kids are. If your kids are a little bit older, adolescent, or older, you can talk to them about vulnerabilities, you can share what some of yours are now, what some of yours were, when you were a kid, and recognize that pretending or thinking you don't have vulnerabilities, makes your vulnerabilities more vulnerable. Right? Because you're not aware of how someone might approach you. So I could share with my kids when they're a little bit older, that I was really insecure about my looks from the, you know, one eyebrow to the buck teeth to the glasses, and right, wrong or indifferent. You know, looks don't matter that you can say that all you want. It's not realistic in this world. And I was really insecure about my looks. So when someone came along and told me I was beautiful. That's all that I heard. That was like a key to unlock, you know, me that I needed that so badly. So talk to kids about vulnerabilities. Where do you feel insecure? How can you build some security there? And if you can't feel like you can do that right now? How can you recognize at least that this is a vulnerability, so that way you retain power over it. So if someone tries to use that, to get something from you, you're gonna be like, Oh, I see you. I see what you're doing strange person on the internet calling me beautiful. Like, yeah, you can't do that. 

Danielle Bettmann  36:32  
That's huge. 

Alexandra Stevenson  36:33  
That would I think that is really good for adolescents. One thing if you have little kids, my kids are two and a half and four. I talked to them about consent all the time. And I don't sit them down and lecture them about consent, because they would stop listening to me and approximately two seconds. Yeah, yeah. But when I'm tickling them, if you know every kid giggles No, stop, stop, I stop. And I say, Hey, I heard you say stop. That tells me you don't want me touching your body. Right? Not at all. Keep tickling. Okay, thank you for giving me consent, tickle, tickle, tickle, right? These sort of things. What about when grandparents come visit the house, you have to say hi, when people come visit our house, because that's polite. But you do not have to hug or kiss people you don't know, or you don't feel comfortable. Even if it's grandma who comes every single day today, you don't feel like hugging and kissing grandma. You can wave or give a high five or come up with another solution. There's so many little ways and I get pushback all the time of like, you know, I gave grandma hugs. And nothing bad ever happened to me. And I'm like, I'm really happy to hear that. I'm not saying you have to employ every single one of these things at every single interval that becomes available to employ. But if you try here and there, you know, Santa pictures, we all as adults laugh at the pictures of kids screaming their faces off sitting on Santa's lap. But how are you teaching your kid if a strange man I hate to be gendered, but it is that's how things work. But strange man ever asked you to sit on his lap and you don't feel comfortable. You don't have to except for when I put you in your pity party dress. It's make you stand in line for two hours. And you have to go sit on that guy's lap. Make it make sense. You know, it's harmless. Yeah, they don't. They don't. And they're going, um, you seem to be giving me mixed messages. So those are some tangible things you can do. Sort of from a young age to a more medium age. 

Alexandra Stevenson  38:17  
The other big thing is going to be online safety. Don't tell me you're not going to give your kids a cell phone until they turn 25. That's not realistic. Yeah, they will also get a cell phone if you don't give them one. And this isn't me saying give your kids a cell phone when they're six because their friends have one. You decide what is the right time for your family. But if you're just the internet's dangerous, and therefore I don't want you on it, your kid will find a cell phone because your kids friends will get upgraded cell phones, and they'll get the old one. And there's Wi Fi everywhere. So your kid's gonna go online. So what you need to do is give them tools to utilize online safely, not to just be like welp, I don't want to see. You're not going there. We this is where we don't go because they will go. So if you don't give them the tools. They're going there without any tools to keep them safe.

Danielle Bettmann  39:05  
Right now that's that's huge. Because we can't play ignorant. We just don't have the privilege.

Alexandra Stevenson  39:12  
No, I mean, think about it. When you're teaching your kid when they're young, across the street, you don't just one day go, well, good luck and wander off and hope they can like scurry across the street by themselves. Like, that wouldn't make any sense. I'd see you laughing and it's exact like that is so ridiculous. But it's the same thing with online safety. You don't just suddenly hand them a cell phone and say good luck. I hope you don't meet any predators. You say okay, well together, we're going to do this together at first, so no phones and bedrooms or bathrooms and it charges overnight in the kitchen. And for the first year, I will go through your phone every night. I will require all of your passwords and I will go through it every night. Be upfront because you don't wanna break their trust, right? And say, if there's anything in there that I feel uncomfortable with, we'll chat about it. And as they earn your trust, then you give them more leeway. I'm not going to Go through your phone without you there anymore, we're gonna go through it together now. And maybe only once every three months, whatever it is, however you kind of figure out those stepping stones are do it with them. Because yes, there's tons of parental apps out there, some of them are better than others. But at the end of the day, you are the best app, you engaging with whatever device your kid is using to access the vastness of the online world, you are the best app, because you're teaching them at that time as well. That you're they're holding their hand like you would when they're crossing the street.

Danielle Bettmann  40:31  
I love that analogy. We need those visuals sometimes to just make it sink in a little bit deeper. And I feel like the Internet is a street corner at like, midnight in the middle of New York City. I mean, it is it is the wild wild west. So let's not kid ourselves and pretend they're only going to, you know, look at cupcakes and rainbows on there.

Alexandra Stevenson  40:52  
Absolutely, yeah. And, you know, I can't remember where I heard this quote now. But I think it was from working with one of the Internet Crimes Against Children, guys, and they told me, If your child has an online presence, it's not a matter of, if a predator sees them, it is a matter of when and whether that predator will reach out or not. That's not necessarily every child, but you will be seen, they will be seen by a predator. So we need to, they need to be aware of what they're posting and how to respond to inappropriate DMS and when to get you and that they won't be in trouble if someone sends them, you know, an unsolicited dick pic or something like that. But they do need to tell you. And if you find out about it, and they haven't told you, that's a breaking of trust, I'm trusting you to use this device and to involve me in it. So let's work together.

Danielle Bettmann  41:40  
Yeah, I love that that entire relationship of it being collaborative from the get go. You know, I think that that that's huge for building our kids trust in us as well, that we do care and we are engaged and you know, it matters. And they matter. Absolutely. That says a lot without saying a lot.

Alexandra Stevenson  41:58  
Yeah. And you know, we didn't grow up watching our parents glued to a device, right. And this isn't passing judgment, I'm on my phone more than I should be most of my works on my phone. So it's hard not to be, but they are growing up watching and learning that this device is extremely important. And so to just hand it to them and say good luck. You're saying here's one of the most important tools that you've seen me use since the day you were born. And now you don't want to engage. You want to use the device, you seem to love me. But when it comes to me in the device, you're completely disconnected. Like that doesn't make sense. If this is the thing that I see you with most, and I'm the thing that you love the most. Let's connect that. Let's help them understand that this is like you've seen me use this device since you were born and now you are bestowing upon me the same device. Let's walk through this together.

Danielle Bettmann  42:54  
Yes, so important. I love that. So circling back, what other misconceptions about this entire process? Do you always really want to make a point to bring truth to? 

Danielle Bettmann  43:08  
If you've ever if you've ever seen on Tik Tok or Facebook or a moms group or some wherever it is that you know someone putting a zip tie on your car door means that you've been targeted by a human trafficker. It's bullshit. Okay, it's bullshit. As I've explained I think in depth, traffickers, it's not that there's never I always have to say this, because somebody always comes after me being like, I know someone who knew someone who knew someone who was snatched off the street. And I'm like, okay, it can happen. Absolutely. Stranger kidnappings happen. Do they all lead to trafficking? No, but that's a whole other thing. Stranger kidnappings that lead to trafficking can happen. In my experience and the experience of every survivor colleague, I have. It's like 1% of trafficking cases are stranger kidnappings. So if you put all your energy into focusing on how not to get kidnapped, in a mall parking lot, or something like that, you are missing the point entirely, and you're not protecting yourself or your kids because you're not providing the tools of how do I know if someone's approaching me? Love bombing me or approached me by exploiting my vulnerabilities or even not me but my friends or giving me things that feel really good? Because yeah, I want that new pair of Nikes. But also, why is this dude giving these to me? That's a little weird. That's what you want to be focusing on. So those are probably my biggest, like, the thing that I always want to talk about the most is, please don't share those things you see on Facebook. Wayfair was not selling children in cabinets. You know, the best way to protect yourself from human trafficking is not more violence or or more guns or anything like that. It is to understand tools, talk about consent, talk about vulnerabilities. And the talking about consent piece is not just about as your kids get older and they start you know of having boyfriends and girlfriends and all of that you want to continue that conversation? Because you don't you want people to both on both sides be able to feel comfortable giving their consent and revoking it. If they feel uncomfortable at any time. And you want the other person you want everyone to also be able to understand what consent looks like when someone is freely giving it or when someone is feeling uncomfortable and not saying no. But they're not necessarily saying yes, either. Right. Yep. So shifting the language that you know, sexual assault is no means no, no. Any sexual activity is yes means yes. Ongoing. Yes. And enthusiastic, yes, somebody kissing you back not standing there, like a statue not having to convince someone to engage after they've said no three or four times. We need that conversation to happen on both sides. So we're not just teaching people how not to be assaulted. We're also teaching people how not to assault. Right?

Danielle Bettmann  45:58  
Yes, yes. So, so huge and needs to be said, Absolutely. What are the most legit resources that we need to know about?

Alexandra Stevenson  46:11  
Human trafficking hotline, I don't have it memorized. But put it in your show notes. There's a Canadian Human Trafficking hotline and an American Human Trafficking Hotline. If you have questions, you saw something, you are unsure about something you can call or text, I believe, or there's an online chat. So that's always an awesome resource. I actually have a nonprofit that I co-founded with the woman who I had coffee with who helped me understand what happened to me, that's based out of Wyoming, and it's called Uprising. And we have a ton of resources on there. For parents as well as for youth. Now, the resources for youth, we kind of say youth 12 and over, if you're under that age, you know better to access this with your parents, which as we know, they will be collaboratively using your device with you. So you can go into that. But on there's a lot of different things, from YouTube videos, to books to conversation starters to words, you should understand all of that. So I love giving out our website, because it's yeah, it's just a sort of collection and a plethora of resources for parents and kids.

Danielle Bettmann  47:18  
Fantastic, which is so needed, because trying to weed through the entire internet to find what is the most helpful and accurate can also be very overwhelming. So we need help with that and do well to streamline that process, we'll definitely add both of those links in the show notes for listeners to go connect with. Absolutely. So to wrap up, tell me more about this statement that I absolutely loved from you that said, "if we can find a way to meet people's needs, we can put traffickers out of business." Tell me more about that.

Alexandra Stevenson  47:48  
Absolutely. People aren't trafficked because they're too stupid to not realize what's happening to them. Right? People are trafficked, because their needs aren't being met. And someone comes along and meet those needs. So that can be anything from a need for love a need for a parental figure. A lot of those things I named earlier in the show. One of my other favorite quotes is, or something I've say is, I'm really sick and tired of explaining to people why they need to care about other people. So if we just start with that, as our foundation, care about other people look at whether your neighbor needs help is their lawn getting overgrown? Well, instead of getting mad that it makes your lawn you know, not look as good or something maybe go over and offer because you might find out that they've just gotten divorced or just lost a parent or has a kid that had an injury or whatever it is, care about people and meet their needs in the best ways you can or help them find resources to meet their needs. This is on a micro level, like I said, your neighbor, it's also at a macro level we need to fund after school programming we need to better fund teachers because oh my God, our teachers are with our children all day long. Who is going to notice if your kid is falling asleep in class? Because that deserves more questions than just a slap on the desk like wake up. But guess what? A teacher who is exhausted just needs kids to listen, a teacher who is well resourced, can spend more time asking questions, spend more time with individual kids who need help. 

Alexandra Stevenson  49:25  
So if we can find a way to meet people's needs, on both a neighborly level on a familial level, on a psychological level on a food level on a shelter, all of that then we can put traffickers out of business, because that is there in they meet needs that are not being met. So if someone is full up on their needs, then when you know somebody comes along and is like, hey, I can you know buy you this. They're like yeah, I can buy that for myself things. Like I don't need that. Or maybe it's not by like, Hey, you're really beautiful. Full? No, thank you. My dad tells me all the time, you know, or my mom tells me all the time. Yes. So you're not starving for whatever pieces of mediocre, you know, strings attached crap. The trafficker is trying to feed you. You're just like, yeah, I'm full. Thanks.

Danielle Bettmann  50:17  
I want that world to be a reality, please.

Alexandra Stevenson  50:20  
Yes, working towards it, working towards it.

Danielle Bettmann  50:23  
Yes, one parent that's listening to this at a time, you have the power to do that within your house and within your neighborhood, within the school community you're in, you know, we have to start with the relationships next to us and build from there. And that's what I love about your work is you're very passionate about like, we have the opportunity to change the world. And it starts, you know, with the next person we talked to, you know, right now,

Alexandra Stevenson  50:50  
yes, absolutely. So if you're listening to this, and you're like, holy crap, I've absolutely thought that trafficking was zip ties on cars, or, you know, what, I can't remember, I've heard so many ridiculous things, I'm sure. And I've talked about it at my book club, like we were all like, yes, we will look for those next book club, I'm gonna go there and be like, Okay, guys, human trafficking has nothing to do with zip ties, it's actually this. And we all need to go home and talk to our kids about vulnerabilities, you have just changed lives by having that one conversation. Like, now people are going to be looking at themselves and their vulnerabilities looking at their kids and what they might notice, instead of looking for zip ties, that can change lives, right there.

Danielle Bettmann  51:31  
Absolutely. That's why I do what I do is because the parent-child relationship is where like, it's the home base for those needs. And you know, when we can really and even if and when, you know, there's there's a divorce or there's, you know, chronic illness where there's something else that happens, that's without it outside of our control. If we as the parent can be super, super responsive and mindful of continuing to provide, you know, coping strategies and a support system. And you know, collaborating with our kids in a really ongoing close relationship, we have the power to keep them resilient by meeting those needs over time that meet need for that belonging that need for that attention. It's not met otherwise in the way that we can meet it for our kids. And I can't you know, preach that enough.

Alexandra Stevenson  52:23  
Absolutely. And then you stay within the goalposts of funny at parties, not a serial killer, like winning, you know, you're absolutely going to mess up your kid in some way or another because we are human. And nobody does anything perfectly no matter how some parts. Some of us really try when we struggle with perfectionism, but we do not so then your kid can complain about that time. Mom forgot them at school once but it wasn't something that was ongoing, or dad, you know, tried to do their hair and it didn't go super well. Or, you know, whatever dad burnt their food and a mum doesn't know how to cook. Like all of these things are things that are reality for so many of us because we're juggling so many things in this day and age. Those can become funny stories later on. Yep. Major assaults, trafficking, exploitation. Those don't become funny stories later on. Right? So that is where you go, okay, how can I? How can I fill your needs, so someone else isn't going to come along and do that? And then you know, when we're adults, we'll laugh about some of those other things. Hopefully, right?

Danielle Bettmann  53:31  
Ah, such a good bottom line. So how can listeners connect with you and everything that you're up to?

Alexandra Stevenson  53:36  
Absolutely. So Instagram @thelaughingsurvivor. That's me. TiK Tok, though I forget but Tik Tok exists. So really, Instagram is where to find me. www.thelaughingsurvivor.com. And yeah, send me if you have any questions. I always try and answer DMS that I get. I will be posting more. I have some pretty exciting things coming up. I get to do a TEDx talk next year and some things so follow along, ask me questions. If there's things you want to learn more about, it might give me some idea for content to put out. So there yes, we appreciate that symbiotic relationship.

Danielle Bettmann  54:13  
Here you Yeah. Well, that's so exciting. And you think you're writing a memoir as well, right?

Alexandra Stevenson  54:19  
I am. Yes, I actually am just finishing that up. And then we'll be heading out to try and find an agent and get that published. So keep your eyes open for that. If you go to my website, you can actually throw your email in I promise I won't spam you with emails, mostly because I don't have time to email so you won't get anything for me until there is some announcement about my book. So

Danielle Bettmann  54:39  
well, that's worth doing. So go find that we'll put that in the show notes as well. Very exciting and congrats on that. Thank you a lot of work. Yeah. Okay. So then the last question I have for you is the question I ask every guest that comes on, which is how are you, the mom or the parent your kids need?

Alexandra Stevenson  54:56  
Before I had kids, I decided to dedicate myself to being the person I needed when I was little. And well, that doesn't always translate perfectly well, I think there is something in the raw honesty that I can give my children. That wasn't how parenting was done when I was parented not to, you know, talk badly about my parents at all. But that's just not how parenting was done. So for me to be able to apologize to my children, is setting them up to understand that they deserve respect, and they deserve respect from people older than them. And I tell my kids all the time, you are just learning how to kid I am learning how to mom, you know, I'm still just figuring it out. So if I do something that you don't like, you can tell me and we can talk about it. And creating that relationship of based in respect and collaboration is not something I had. That's just not how parenting was done, right? I'm the parent, you're the kid shut up and listen. And so well, sometimes that is still the thing in my house, it's also okay, well, when when we have a moment, I can come in, and I can repair and I can apologize. And sometimes it makes me want to bite my tongue off apologizing to a tiny little demon who has been terrorizing me for hours at that point, but the long term is worth it. I keep telling myself, I hope Yes, check back with me in 10 years, and we'll see. And,

Danielle Bettmann  56:28  
and you're right, like, it's, it's easy to not have that long term, big picture view when they are as little as they are for at your house. But knowing what you know, and wanting to have that long game, always in view of the safety and the understanding that they have going into all of their future relationships. You know, it's it makes sense that you keep that in the forefront. And those principles, really, you know, are the building blocks of, you know, your parenting style. So I commend you for that. I mean, how lucky are your kids to have that level of safety and transparency and being able to know that they can approach their parent like that, and knowing that what they are worthy of love and how they are to be treated? That's amazing. I'm,

Alexandra Stevenson  57:11  
You're like, how lucky are your kids and I just want to cry and be like, Oh, God, but I screw up so much. But exactly why you have this podcast is to be like, exactly, we all do. And we all do awesome things as well. So exactly. Yes, thank you.

Danielle Bettmann  57:26  
So if we can drive home that point, then we all feel a lot less alone in those moments. So that's why I'm so glad you're here. Thanks again, for all your time today for your willingness to dredge up these you know, dark parts of you over and over so that you can advocate so that you can save lives and change the world. I mean, like that does not go unseen. It is incredibly appreciated and important. And I know that that's exhausting, as well. So continue to take care of yourself, and we can't wait to see what's next for you and follow that journey. So thanks again.

Alexandra Stevenson  58:00  
Well, thank you so much. I love this. Thank you for this platform.

Danielle Bettmann  58:08  
Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Failing Motherhood. Your kids are so lucky to have you. If you loved this episode, take a screenshot right now and share it in your Instagram stories and tag me. If you're loving the podcast, be sure that you've subscribed and leave a review so we can help more moms know they are not alone if they feel like they're failing motherhood on a daily basis. And if you're ready to transform your relationship with your strong-willed child, and invest in the support you need to make it happen. Schedule your free consultation using the link in the show notes. I can't wait to meet you. Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I believe in you, and I'm cheering you on.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai