A Friend for the Journey: “What Happened to Me?!” Book Review



In a field with few written resources for survivors of human trafficking to help guide them on the journey of recovery, I have found a gem.

Toni McKinley, author, speaker, counselor, advocate, and survivor of human trafficking, used her training and personal experience to create a vital resource for survivors of trafficking called What Happened to Me?! Healing for Sex Trafficking Survivors. The book is easy to read and highly relatable to the language of youth and young adults. Yet, even this adult found it engaging and invitational; like I was participating in a conversation with a good friend who understood me.

Bouncing between narrative, teaching, artwork by survivors, and personal reflection, McKinley offers a myriad of ways for the reader to engage with the book. As a survivor of familial trafficking myself, it feels doubly difficult at times to find resources that talk about what I experienced. I appreciate that McKinley integrated this into her writing and wrote about it extensively. It was a validating experience to read about others who have had similar experiences to my own. Shame among survivors holds such a powerful grip silencing those under its control. Not only did I have the opportunity to read about those who experienced what I did, but I also read other survivor stories in McKinley’s words, showing the similarities and differences between pimp and familial trafficking. I value the fact that McKinley confronts misconceptions about these situations and is so clear in how she defines the experience of being trafficked.

This resource gives guidance in a journey that is often convoluted and hard to understand. Healing is never easy for a survivor; at times it feels like you are fighting the urge to run back to what you have known because discomfort of exploitation becomes comfortable in its familiarity. This battle is a battle for the life you are going to live, so it is incredibly valuable to find guides to shine a little light into what it means to really be free.

As I was reading this book, I found it difficult at times to engage with some of the stories. I wanted to answer the questions posed, but I wasn’t sure if this could be something I could do solo. The way McKinley frames certain questions and responses assumes that readers are meeting with a group or talking with a trusted individual as they are reading. It is easy to get triggered, and it is important to have accountability and community while digging into this content. I feel like I could take these questions and build upon them with trusted advisers in a way that would be conducive to my growth and healing.

Although this book is written for younger populations, I found the simplicity refreshing and approachable as she brought hard terminology down to the ground. It would be easy to integrate this resource in programs and counseling, in support groups and small groups. I would even recommend it for allies of survivors that want to understand more about the experience and process of recovery from trafficking.

By implementing this resource, I believe that it would build empathy and connection, not only for survivors working through this book together but for those that care for survivors. It is invaluable when a survivor is willing to share not only their story, but their journey of overcoming. This is encouraging to someone who is still in process. I appreciate those that have gone before and constructed a map to help me walk just a little bit further down my road of healing.

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About the Author

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Grace is a survivor of human trafficking who is working on a degree in professional psychology. She is passionate about being a part of the movement to end slavery by providing trauma-informed services to fellow survivors after her schooling is finished. She is an avid reader, loves to create art and music, play with animals, and take note of the little bits of beauty that make up ordinary life.