The Naked Truth Blog

The Naked Truth is a blog intended to help us all live more fulfilling lives by confronting our self-deception. No sugar-coating. No coddling. Just the honest reflection of you standing naked in front of a mirror. You can read it here or on Psychology Today.

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“It Was About a 12-Pound Turkey”

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | September 9, 2015 |

BED TurkeyUnderstanding Binge Eating Disorder (BED), the most common eating disorder.

It was about a 12-pound Turkey.” The words rung in my ears as I listened to her story. “My last binge was two days ago. I was making dinner for my family. I pulled the turkey out of the oven and tasted it to see whether it was cooked. As soon as I put the first bite in my mouth, I knew I was in trouble. I kept eating and eating and eating. I just couldn’t stop. Before I knew it I had eaten the entire turkey—in less than half of an hour. I quickly cleaned up the kitchen and threw a pizza in the oven before my family got home because I was so embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know. It was just too humiliating. And I felt so gross.” I will never forget my first conversation with a person struggling with Binge Eating Disorder. The pain, anxiety, and shame in this woman’s voice as she described her eating behavior was palpable. Like most people with eating disorders, I was one of the only people she had ever told about her eating behavior and body image.
 The truth is that Binge Eating Disorder (commonly referred to as BED) is a highly misunderstood and underdiagnosed disorder. This is, in part, because BED was not a diagnosable eating disorder until 2013, with the latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). It is also because BED is often confused with general overeating and obesity, which is highly stigmatized in medical arenas that might otherwise provide help (Puhl & Brownell, 2001).
Yet, research suggests that BED is more common than anorexia or bulimia nervosa combined (Hudson et al., 2007). In a nationally representative sample of almost 3,000 English-speaking adults, Hudson and colleagues (2007) found that 2% of men and 3.5% of women met criteria for BED during their lifetime. This is much higher than the lifetime prevalence estimates for anorexia nervosa (affecting .5-1% of the population) and bulimia nervosa (affecting about 1.5% of the population). In addition, BED is associated with a great deal of guilt, shame, distress, and embarrassment, which can dramatically influence a person’s quality of life (Perez & Warren, 2012). Consequently, it is critical for the public and medical professionals to more accurately identify and talk about BED. Here are three things you need to know about BED: 1. What is Binge Eating Disorder? The most obvious defining characteristic of BED is frequent binge eating behavior. Specifically, binge eating is defined as eating unusually large amounts of food in a short amount of time (e.g., within a 2 hour period) while feeling unable to stop eating. In addition, during binge eating episodes, people often eat much more rapidly than normal; eat until they feel uncomfortably full; eat when they are not physically hungry; eat alone because of embarrassment; and feel disgusted, depressed, or very guilty after eating. This binge eating behavior is highly distressing and occurs, on average, at least once a week during a three-month period. 2. Are all people with BED overweight or obese? Unlike some other eating disorders (e.g., anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa), individuals with BED do not engage in behavior to prevent weight gain following binges. For example, individuals do not vomit, use diuretics, engage in excessive exercise, or fast after binge eating. As a result, about half of people with BED are obese (body mass index greater than 30) and another 35% are overweight (body mass index between 25-30). Only about 20% of individuals with BED are of average weight (Hudson et al., 2007). Consequently, although not all individuals with BED are overweight, all are at risk for becoming overweight due to the large amount of calories consumed during binges. 3. Are there effective treatments for people with BED? There are highly effective treatments for BED. Various psychotherapies, including interpersonal therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, show positive outcomes in clinical research trials (see Wilfley et al., 2002; Grilo, Masheb, & Crosby, 2012). In addition, the first medication to treat BED was recently approved by the FDA called Vyvanse. The Naked Truth is this: Many people with BED are never adequately assessed or diagnosed. As accurate information about BED is better understood among health care professionals and the public, more people struggling in silence with eating and body image issues will have access to care. Please spread the word. Eating Disorder Resources There are many excellent resources for people with eating disorders, practitioners, and loved ones alike. These include the American Psychiatric Association; the National Eating Disorders Association; the Binge Eating Disorder Association ; PositiveHealthWellness.com and the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness . Videos Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D. Read More...

American Psychological Association Honors Dr. Cortney S. Warren

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | August 25, 2015 |

apa logoDr. Warren receives the 2015 Minority Fellowship Program Early Career Achievement Award

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, August 8, 2015:  How many women and men dislike their appearance and weight?  How do eating norms and ideals of beauty differ across countries and ethnic groups?  Are we responsible for our own emotional reactivity?  How does our inability to be honest harm our romantic relationships?  How honest can we be with ourselves about who we really are?

These are just a few of the meaningful questions that Dr. Warren explores through her research and clinical practice.  Provocative and compelling, Dr. Warren’s work earned her the 2015 American Psychological Association Minority Fellowship Programs’ Early Career Achievement Award.

Raised traveling the world, Warren has a unique perspective on how culture influences eating norms, food ritual, ideals of beauty, and personality identity.  As such, the majority of Warren’s research explores eating pathology, addictions, self-deception and the practice of psychotherapy from a cross-cultural perspective.  Her new book, “Lies We Tell Ourselves: The Psychology of Self-Deception”  and her recent TEDx talk: “Honest Liars: The Psychology of Self-Deception”  highlight the ways that humans struggle to be honest with themselves.  At the core, Dr. Warren argues that people lie to themselves because they don’t have enough psychological strength to admit the truth and deal with the consequences that will follow.  In essence, “our lies reflect what we wish were true.”  Through her new website, ChooseHonesty.com, Dr. Warren provides information about self-deception, its practical influence on our quality of life, and a free monthly blog that highlights some aspect of her work.

With 40 peer-reviewed journal articles, seven book chapters, and a book, Warren’s work appears in many top journals, including the International Journal of Eating Disorders, Appetite and Obesity. Warren has won some of the most prestigious awards in her field, including the 2004 Edwin B. Newman Graduate Research Award, 2010 Samuel M. Turner Early Career Award for Distinguished Contributions to Diversity in Clinical Psychology, and the 2011 Theodore H. Blau Early Career Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Clinical Psychology from American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Foundation.

Cortney’s Background & Education

Cortney graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from Macalester College (St. Paul, Minnesota) in 2000. Funded by the American Psychological Associations’ Minority Fellowship Program, Cortney earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University after completing a pre-doctoral clinical internship at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School.  Cortney joined the faculty at the University of University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2006; earned tenure in 2012; and resigned effective summer, 2014.  For more information on Cortney and her work, visit ChooseHonesty.com.

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I am a Sourpuss and I Deserve to be!

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | August 5, 2015 |

iStock_000061348456_Medium–  I haven’t slept well in weeks.

–  My daughter peed in my bed yesterday.

–  I have no time to myself.

–  My body is so uncomfortable, and I feel like a cow!

Yesterday I woke up a total Sourpuss. Six am. Awake with my five-week-old son, soon to be joined by my two-year-old daughter. All I could think about was how utterly exhausted I felt. Like many parents to young children, I was not sure I could get through the day without falling apart.

Soon after drinking a much-needed cup of coffee, I paused. Clearly, my thoughts were justifying my grumpiness. Yet, my thinking wasn’t particularly flawed. It is true that I haven’t slept more than a few hours at a time since my son was born. That my potty-trained daughter peed while sitting next to me in my bed. That I have almost no alone time, and that my body is struggling after an unexpected C-section and breastfeeding fiascos. My thoughts were basically true. So, what is the problem?

Then it dawned on me: When unpleasant events occur in life, we are more prone to feeling grumpy and prolonging our own misery. Because when something happens that is downright undesirable (like the spit-up running down the side of my arm every few hours), we feel justified in our grumpiness. We actually have reasonable explanations that support our feelings. We can easily articulate why we are grumpy, entitled to be grumpy, and entitled to stay grumpy for as long as we please! And, in that way, we begin to use honest descriptions about our lives to justify negative emotions, behavior, and experiences.

Yet, therein lies a problem for our life fulfillment. The world is full of hardships and challenges. Sometimes we have good reasons to be upset or even downright miserable. But where does that leave you? Now what? Okay, you are entitled to be a sourpuss because you are in a tough situation. So now you are miserable. How is that working for you? How does it affect your behavior? Health? Relationships?

When I realized what I was doing—namely focusing on the proverbial puke and not on the privilege of having two children—I had to take responsibility for my sourpuss state. I had to stop justifying my bad mood by describing current life challenges. I had to shift from thinking about why I deserved to be grumpy to appreciating the fact that I am utterly grateful to be a mother to two children. Once I did that, my mood changed. I cannot say that I had the best day of my life or that I became the picture of enthusiasm (the black bags under my eyes gave me away). But, I had a much better day than I would have if I hadn’t changed my perspective.

The Naked Truth is this: There are times in life that are challenging. And days when we wake up a sourpuss. I am not suggesting we should be elated 100% of the time. In fact, that would also be a lie. For to be honest requires that you admit realities that are unpleasant and cause discomfort. Sometimes pain is an honest reaction to the truth! But, often, we use challenging real-life circumstances to justify unpleasant emotional states. That will leave you unhappy and unfulfilled. Yet, we can choose to change our perspective to focus on the positive. At the end of the day, it is a choice —and your choice will affect your life fulfillment and happiness.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.

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(Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | June 15, 2015 |

 

Concept of lies. Lie detector with text. 3d

Concept of lies. Lie detector with text. 3d

“The bigger the brain, the larger the capacity to lie.”
–Murali Doraiswamy, MD

From seemingly small white lies to full-blown criminal confabulations, lying permeates human behavior. For example, most people believe that they are better than average drivers, which is clearly not statistically possible! People lie on their taxes and justify it in a myriad of ways, such as telling themselves that the government gets enough money and no one will ever find out. And they lie in their online dating profiles—about just about everything!

CNBC recently aired a fantastic new documentary called (Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies. Based mostly on the research of Dr. Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, this film explores how, when, and why people lie (see thedishonestyproject.com). Interspersed with research and academic commentary on lying are first-person accounts of deception: a wife cheating on her husband; a professional biker who used steroids to stay competitive; an illegal Wall Street trading partnership. What all of the stories and research have in common is that they demonstrate the human tendency to lie—and show how we use self-deception to justify our lies.

Dr. Ariely argues that lying is one core example of human irrationality—ways that we think in non-logical ways. Theoretically, we are torn between honesty and self-protection. On the one hand, we want to think of ourselves as decent, honest individuals, which is not consistent with being a liar. On the other hand, we want to justify being dishonest when it is self-beneficial or protects us from painful truths. Consequently, we try to walk a fine line between being honest and being dishonest, between acting in accordance with reality and tweaking that reality. Psychologically, as long as we lie “just a little bit” and justify our lies to ourselves, we are protected from seeing ourselves as dishonest. Dr. Ariely calls this the fudge factor –the amount that we can lie and still think of ourselves as good, honest, virtuous people.

Dr. Ariely’s description of the fudge factor illustrates the important link between bold-faced lying and self-deception. When we knowingly lie, we justify our lie with a self-deceptive lie to continue to feel good about ourselves (Warren, 2014). For example, we may say:

-I don’t lie very often.  So it is not really a comment on my character.
-Everyone cheats sometimes. So why shouldn’t I?
-I am not getting my needs met in my relationship. So I am going to go elsewhere for attention without telling my partner.
-I am not directly hurting anyone. So it isn’t really a problem.
-I deserve better. So I will do what it takes to get it.

The film also highlights that lying is very socially normative and culturally reinforced. From corporate scandals like Enron to steroid use in professional sports to political deception about torture, weapons of mass-destruction, and sexual behavior, lying is everywhere in mainstream media and culture. Often, we see powerful companies and political figures lie without any obvious consequences to the liar. Seeing others lie—without repercussion—makes it easier for us to justify why lying is okay for us as individuals.

So, where do we go from here? A large body of research and psychological observations suggest that we all lie to ourselves and others. It seems to be part of human nature. As such, our tendency to lie will never go away. So now what?

I do not think it is realistic to think we will ever stop lying to ourselves entirely. Rather, the goal is to become more aware of our lying—when, how and why we lie—and to reduce our fudge factor. As we become more self-aware, we learn to spot our lies before we repeat them or they spiral out of control. We also become empowered to make choices—about who we want to be and how we want to live our lives (Warren, 2014).

The Naked Truth is this: In addition to describing some great psychological research on lying and self-deception, (Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies provides a compelling, first-hand look at how lying and self-deception operate in our lives. It is a must-see!

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The Stories He Told Himself: What We Can Learn From Brian Williams About Self-Deception and Lying

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | May 8, 2015 |

Photo by David Shankbone (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

In February, 2015, reporter Brian Williams found himself under extreme public scrutiny for lying [1]. A respected news anchor for decades [2], Brian claimed that he was riding in an Army aircraft that was shot by a rocket-propelled grenade while reporting on the Iraq war in 2003 [3]. Yet, that was not true. Brian was in Iraq and clearly affected by his experiences there, but was not in the aircraft that was struck [4]. After being criticized for the lie by others who were there, Brian apologized and stated that he “made a mistake” [5]. In fact, Brian seemed dumbfounded about how he made such an error saying, “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another” [6].

Situations in which people blatantly lie—especially involving a famous media figure like Brian Williams—inherently produce questions. How does someone like Brian Williams lie about his own experiences? Did he realize he was lying? Or did he actually believe that he was in the aircraft that was attacked?

Although we cannot know exactly why Brian Williams lied, it is quite possible that Brian’s lies were actually a result of his own self-deception. And if we lie to ourselves, we will lie to others [7].

One of the main reasons we lie to ourselves is that our thoughts construct and reflect our reality. Our experiences and memories are influenced by the way we perceive the world—how we interpret events in our lives, how we recount our past, how we remember (or misremember) the truth. In essence, our reality is shaped by the stories we tell ourselves in our own minds.

The problem with this reality is that, most of the time, we do not check our own thoughts for accuracy. For most of us think that our thoughts are true—that they accurately reflect reality. Yet, our thoughts don’t need to be true for us to think them. They don’t need to be based in fact. They don’t need data to support their accuracy. They can be completely false; yet, we will think they are accurate. We think that we are right!

The result is that we can create a reality in our own minds about what is true that is completely false. And, if you repeatedly tell yourself the same stories—true or false—you will start to believe them. In the words of the infamous Adolf Hitler, “If you tell a lie and you tell it often enough, it will be believed.” You (and those around you) will believe your lies until you are confronted with evidence to the contrary.

The Naked Truth Is This: Our thoughts have a profound affect on us—whether they are true or false. Although we cannot know exactly why Brian Williams lied to the public about his experiences in the Iraq war, it is quite possible that he believed his lies when he told them. And when any of us lie to ourselves, we will lie to others. For we will communicate our lies as if they are fact even when they are fiction.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.

Selected References

[1]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAggWBbAkMY
[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Williams
[3]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueKA2iz8fDM
[4]http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/nbc-anchor-brian-williams-apology-fails-to-silence-critics/
[5]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sW6AbX2q0fM
[6]http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/brian-williams-false-iraq-war-story-1201424120/
[7]http://www.amazon.com/Lies-Tell-Ourselves-Psychology-Self-Deception-ebook/dp/B00J527LPG

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All People With Eating Disorders Are Underweight, Right? Dispelling Three Common Myths About Eating Disorders.

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | April 2, 2015 |

Eating disorder

As a clinical psychologist with an expertise in eating disorders, people frequently tell me stories about their experiences with eating and weight. Some tell painful stories of watching loved ones deal with severe symptoms. Some express their own struggles around dieting and body image. Some describe trying to treat patients. And some just ask questions.

In these interactions, it is clear to me that most people want to understand eating disorders. They are interested. They want to learn. They want to help or be helped. What these people have in common is a need for basic facts about eating disorders. And, many of them are misinformed.

Below are the three biggest myths that I hear about eating disorders. These myths often lead us to under-recognize and misunderstand the experiences of people struggling with these complex disorders.

1. All People with Eating Disorders are Underweight.
Technically, there are eight different feeding and eating disorders that someone could be diagnosed with according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Of these, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most publically-recognized and widely researched (1). Yet, of these disorders, only anorexia nervosa is associated with being significantly underweight. In fact, individuals with bulimia nervosa are generally average weight or slightly overweight and about half of people with binge eating disorder are obese. Consequently, it is not true that all people with eating disorders are underweight.

2. Eating Disorders are Not That Serious.
Often, the media sensationalizes and trivializes eating disorder symptoms (2,3). This leads many people to think that eating disorders are minor struggles that don’t really affect peoples lives in a meaningful way. The truth is that eating disorders are incredibly serious mental disorders characterized by problems in eating behavior and body image. They are highly comorbid with other mental illness: the large majority of individuals who have an eating disorder also have at least one other psychological disorder (4). And, although each eating disorder is unique, all are associated with serious psychological, physical, and social impairment. Consequently, eating disorders are very serious psychological disorders that should not be minimized or taken lightly.

3. Eating Disorders Only Affect Young, White Women.
Although eating disorders usually develop during adolescence or young adulthood and are more prevalent in women than men, recent research suggests that eating disorders often affect people of all genders, ethnicities, ages, and socioeconomic groups. For example, in a community-based sample of over 2000 adults, about 3.5% of women and 2% of men met lifetime criteria for binge eating disorder (5). Furthermore, in a large sample of data collected from three national surveys, lifetime prevalence of binge eating disorder was similar in Asian American, African American, White/European American, and Hispanic/Latinos, ranging from 1.3% in Asian Americans to 2.1% in Latinos (6). Furthermore, bulimia nervosa was more common in Latinos and African Americans than Whites. Consequently, eating disorders do not only affect young, White women.

The Naked Truth is This: In today’s society, most of us have been in contact with and personally affected by someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. Additionally, almost everyone has personally struggled with their eating, felt negatively about their physical appearance, or worried about their weight at some point in their life. Yet, our image of the typical person struggling with an eating disorder is often incredibly narrow and often inaccurate. It is important to broaden our view of what a person with an eating disorder “looks like” to ensure appropriate assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

For more information about eating disorders, visit the American Psychiatric Association (http://www.psychiatry.org/eating-disorders); the National Eating Disorders Association (http://nationaleatingdisorders.org); the Binge Eating Disorder Association (www.beda.com); and the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness (www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com). For information on changes to the diagnostic criteria (which occurred in 2013), see the most recent revision to the Feeding and Eating Disorders section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V; 7).

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.

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Live As If You’ll Die Tomorrow—Write a Will Today

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | February 22, 2015 |

Last will and testament

Writing a will is not something that most of us think about. Or talk about. Or want to think or talk about. Because writing a will reminds us that we are all going to die.

Death is a topic that causes most of us incredible fear, pain, and discomfort. The mere thought that our child, parent, or partner could die at any moment petrifies us. So, when it comes to our own mortality, it is not surprising that we would prefer to avoid the topic. In essence, writing a will is something that we rationally know we should do but politely avoid because it is unpleasant to plan for our own demise.

In fact, a large percentage of adults in the USA do not have a legal will. In a 2012 survey by Rocket Lawyer.com, half of Americans with children did not have a legal will (1). A recent study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that only 44% of individuals between the ages of 50-54 have a legal will (2).

So, why is it so important to write a will? Why should you spend time, money, and emotional energy to write a will? Here are three powerful reasons that you should confront your feelings about death and write a will today.

1) Empowerment.
The main reason to write a will is to give yourself a voice. To make your wishes known. To dictate what happens to your belongings after you die. For if you die without a will, your possessions will be divided as dictated by the laws of your state and the government. This includes everything considered to be a part of your estate, including your money, personal effects, and property.

Of particular note, if you are not legally married, your domestic partner may have no rights to your belongings if you die and do not have a will in place (3). This is especially relevant for many gay and lesbian couples who cannot be legally married due to some current state laws (4). Furthermore, if you do not have any surviving relatives, your entire estate could go to the state instead of your favorite charity or loved ones (5). So, if you want specific people to inherit family heirlooms, the majority of your cash, or your home, it needs to be specified in a legal will; otherwise it will be determined for you.

2) Protect Your Dependents.
We care about our children, pets, and other legal dependents (such as aging parents) more than almost anything else in life. Without a doubt, deciding who we want to raise our children or care for loved ones when we die is an incredibly difficult decision. Yet, without a will, custody of your dependents will be transferred to the next surviving family member or other guardian as determined by the state. In a will, you can outline everything from who you want to have primary custody of your children to who can have visitation and sustained relationships with them over time (6). Although it is a painful topic, wouldn’t you rather decide who cares for your dependents than have the state make that decision for you?

3) Unburden Family and Friends.
When you die, your loved ones will grieve. On top of coping with your death, they will also have to make difficult decisions about what to do with your estate. Without a will, this process can be incredibly stressful, emotionally painful, conflicted, and time consuming. It is actually a wonderful gift to those you love to have a will in place so that they can celebrate your life after you die—not become engrossed in legal battles over your stuff.

The Naked Truth is this: All of us deceive ourselves to avoid uncomfortable life realities (7). Our ability to deny, distract, and rationalize helps us to cope with some of the most difficult realities of life. Yet, until we find the scientific fountain of youth, we are still all going to die.  If you want any control over what happens to your belongings and dependents after you die, write a will. Today.

For more information on practical aspects of writing a will, visit http://www.usa.gov/topics/money/personal-finance/wills.shtml or https://www.legalzoom.com/knowledge/last-will/topic/wills-intestate.

Selected References:

1. https://www.rocketlawyer.com/news/article-Make-a-Will-Month-2012.aspx
2. http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/econ/will.pdf
3. http://family.findlaw.com/domestic-partnerships/state-laws-domestic-partnerships.html
4. http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/
5. http://estate.findlaw.com/wills/what-happens-if-i-die-without-a-will-.html
6. http://www.babycenter.com/0_why-every-parent-needs-a-will_353.bc
7. http://www.amazon.com/Lies-Tell-Ourselves-Psychology-Self-Deception-ebook/dp/B00J527LPG

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.

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The Naked Truth about Human Sex Trafficking

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | January 18, 2015 |

Open hand raised, Stop Trafficking sign painted, multi purpose c

I will never forget the first patient I treated who was the victim of sexual trauma and kidnapping. A 16-year-old immigrant who spoke limited English, the stories that she painstakingly recounted as we started the therapeutic process of recovery were so horrific that I would often leave the session in disbelief that humans were capable of such cruelty. How could someone do this to another human being, let alone a child?

All of us lie to ourselves about the truth (1). We are particularly good at lying about issues that are most psychologically upsetting to admit—it helps us cope with some of the most brutal realities of life. Yet, it doesn’t make the truth any less true. 

In that vein, most of us struggle to admit that human sex trafficking, sexual violence and torture occur on a daily basis. We can’t emotionally handle the idea that people—often young children—are induced into the commercial sex trade against their will for the financial profit of others (2).

We don’t want to know that 2 million children are victims of the sex trade each year (3); that the average girl being forced into prostitution in the USA is 13 years old (4); and that over 80% of confirmed cases of sex trafficking in the United States are American-born citizens (5). We can’t fathom that an estimated 20.9 million people are enslaved in the world today (6,7), many of whom are forced to engage in sex for the profit of someone else.

The truth is that human sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, accounting for an estimated $150-billion a year (8).

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month (9). In the interest of humanity, here are three simple things that we can do to help fight sex trafficking in our communities.

1. Education and awareness

We can’t fight sex trafficking until we can actually admit that it is happening. We have to be willing to acknowledge the data and listen to the many emotionally charged stories of survivors. We actually have to be affected by the reality. Watch A Path Appears, a new documentary airing on PBS exploring issues of gender inequality and sex trafficking (10), or one of many documentaries and short films exposing the lived experiences and world of sex trafficking (11).

2. Communicate

Often, the more taboo and ugly the topic, the less we want to talk about it. Yet, as we become more aware, we have to talk about it—honestly and openly. The more we can start a dialogue about the realities of sex trafficking, the more likely we are as a global community to do something about it.

3. Get Involved

As the truth is acknowledged, we have to do something. In addition to talking about it, become involved in prevention efforts in your community.  There are many organizations dedicated to fighting sex trafficking, such as the Not For Sale Campaign (12), UNICEF End Sex Trafficking Project (13) and the Polaris Project (14). Whether you take a moment to sign a petition that supports governmental legislation to help end trafficking, attend an awareness event, or talk to your friends about this difficult topic, collective efforts can make a difference (15).

The Naked Truth is this: Human sex trafficking is an enormous problem in the United States and around the world. Choose to become more informed about the facts of human sex trafficking, talk about them, and get active. We cannot allow our self-deceptive tendencies to delude us into ignoring this issue.

*Note: If you or someone you know is the victim of a human sex trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (1-888-373-7888) or the U.S. Department of Justice Hotline (1-888-428-7581).

Selected References:

1. Warren, C. S. (2014). Lies We Tell Ourselves: The Psychology of Self-Deception. Sevierville, TN: Insight Publishing.
2. http://www.nctsn.org/resources/public-awareness/human-trafficking
3. UNICEF, Children Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Reach; Abused and Neglected, Millions of Children Have Become Virtually Invisible (Dec. 2005).
4. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/humantrafficking/LitRev/
5. http://ojp.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/2011/BJS11093.htm
6. freetheslaves.net
7. International Labour Organization (2012), ILO global estimate of forced labour: Results and methodology.
8. http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_243201/lang–en/index.htm
9. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/30/presidential-proclamation-national-slavery-and-human-trafficking-prevent
10. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/path-appears/film.html
11. http://www.polarisproject.org/storage/documents/Human_trafficking_films_full_list_with_summaries.pdf.
12. http://notforsalecampaign.org/human-trafficking/
13. http://www.unicefusa.org/mission/protect/trafficking/end
14. http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/overview
15. http://hq.salsalabs.com/o/5417/p/dia/action3/common/public/

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