Healing Words of Affirmation & Love

Ready to practice radical self-compassion? Dr. Stephanie Powell is back on the podcast sharing professional experience and empowering sentiments.

This is Part 2 of Anne’s interview with Dr. Powell.
Part 1: What Sex Trafficking Really Looks Like
Part 2: Healing Words of Affirmation & Love (this episode)

Have you experienced sexual exploitation and coercion? Are you working through the trauma of emotional abuse and betrayal?

Dr. Stephany Powell is back on The BTR.ORG Podcast sharing powerful words of healing and love for victims. Tune in to the podcast and read the full transcript for more.

“I Am Enough”

It goes back again to us women really realizing that who we are is enough, regardless of whether we have someone in our life or we don’t. We’re going to be okay. What you don’t want is to have someone that you trust and love use everything that you’ve told him against you – because you’re not there for him to use it against you.

When I was in law enforcement, I came on when there weren’t that many females. And so there was a lot of obstacles with that. But I had this saying on my desk that I actually heard from Oprah Winfrey that says, ‘What you say about me is none of my business.’ Think about that for one moment. ‘What you say about me is none of my business.’ In other words, I can’t invest in that negativity.

Dr. Stephany Powell

One way that abusive men exploit victims is by conditioning women to believe that they are intrinsically not enough – and need the abuser to complete them or validate their existence and worth.

Will you tell yourself, “I am enough” today?

“People Have to Earn my Trust and Love”

As women, we are often conditioned from birth to offer unconditional trust and love. It’s vulnerable and brave to participate in relationships, but utilizing this mantra can help victims to engage in only healthy relationships.

Will you give yourself the gift of allowing others to earn your trust and love, rather than offering it unconditionally? 

“What happened to me is not my fault.”

It’s so easy to blame ourselves for abuse and betrayal.

  • I wasn’t enough for my husband
  • Do I bring out the worst in him?
  • I should’ve known
  • I should’ve been better
  • Why didn’t I leave sooner?

“The bottom line is, whatever has happened to you is not your fault. You learn from it, you move forward.”

Dr. Stephany Powell

Abuse is never the victim’s fault. You are not to blame. Please offer yourself the grace and healing that comes with embracing the mantra:

“What happened to me is not my fault. I will learn from this. I will give myself compassion.”

BTR.ORG Supports You

We know how difficult it can be to practice self-love and compassion after experiencing betrayal and abuse. Please find the support you deserve in our BTR.ORG Group Sessions.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Dr. Stephany Powell is back on today’s episode. If you didn’t listen to the beginning of our conversation last week, start there and then join us here. We’re just going to jump right in.

When it comes to sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, can you talk to us about some lessons that you learned from your experience that would be relevant to this audience?

“I assumed they were there because they wanted to be there”

Dr. Stephany Powell (00:23):
In terms of my experience when I first was running my vice unit, I thought that when I’d see the women walking up and down the street on their phones and hardly having anything on and they’re laughing in the phone, I assumed that they were there because they wanted to be there, that’s what they wanted to do. But when I started working with them, not only in my law enforcement end of it, but in the advocate end of it, I quickly learned that some of them were doing it because…I’m going to talk about the ones who felt that they had a relationship. I think people can understand this. I’m talking about the ones who it was their husbands or it was their boyfriends and they really were in love with them and they really bought into, “I’m doing this for them, I’m doing it for us.”

“They were no different than me.”

They’re in love. And love is a very, that’s one lesson I learned. Love is a very strong emotion that can get people to do almost anything, and we always hear these stories, but it’s so true. So my lesson was that not everybody that’s out there is out there because they choose to be out there in and of itself. Sometimes you choose to be out there when you don’t have any other choice, but some of them were really in love with these guys because they had lost themselves in that other person. And so when you see it from that view, it helps you understand from the lens of a woman where there’s that commonality- if you’ve ever been in love and have been burnt. So I learned that these women were no different from me. We may have made other choices, but when it came to falling in love with the wrong person, they were no different than me.

“They were in that situation due to coercion, through no fault of their own”

Anne (02:37):
Understanding that they were in that situation due to coercion, through no fault of their own, through thinking they were doing something for their spouse or their boyfriend, can you talk about the logic of that? Was it like they needed money and so he was like, “This is a good way for us to get money, babe, if you do this, then we’ll be able to earn enough money to buy a house or something”, because for me, that doesn’t seem super logical. So could you help put the pieces together of how they would coerce them into thinking that being exploited and physically putting themselves in danger, having sex with multiple people for money would be of a benefit to her?

“A pimp once said that when he meets a girl, he’ll find a weakness and if he can’t find a weakness, he will create one”

Dr. Stephany Powell (03:25):
It doesn’t start off like that. There’s a grooming process in it, so it’s making that person fall in love with them first. A pimp once said, when he meets a girl, he’ll find a weakness and if he can’t find a weakness, he will create one. And so as a result of that, finding that weakness may be that you need someone to tell you that you’re pretty or you need to be in a relationship. And so if they’re going to be everything that you need, until of course it goes sideways, they have them fall in love with them first and then they broach the idea of, I’ve given you all these things, now I’m running out of money. If you could just do this one time for us…and then that one time becomes two times and it’s not because they want to have sex with all these men, it’s because now they’re in a position where they don’t want that man to leave them.

“He doesn’t start off that way.”

If they leave them (that’s why I was talking about resources), they don’t have anything else. They don’t have a family to go to. They don’t have an education or a job to go to, all being in the name of love.
I would assume that the same woman who knows that her husband watches pornography and goes, “I don’t really like it. That’s kind of what he does. No harm, no foul”, until he starts taking pictures of her and uploading it. He doesn’t start off that way. For the most part, it’s that manipulation of gaining trust. Here’s a good example: The guy we fall in love with, and your mother and your family members and sisters are saying he’s not the one. And we will argue all the reasons why he’s the one until we figure out that he’s not. And then the question becomes, “Now is it too late?” So if you can understand that, you can understand this.

Understanding why abusers use grooming

Anne (05:34):
It strikes me that the grooming is really important because that was the trafficker’s intention the entire time. So he wanted her to fall in love with him so that she would be loyal so that she would be willing to do what he wanted so that he could exploit her. And so in that case, her thinking, Okay, I’m doing this for us. She does not realize that it’s never been about us, but that the grooming occurred in order to be able to exploit her. And that is how it has always been. So there’s never going to be a time when you earned enough money to be able to purchase that car for us, and then he says, “Oh, great. You never do have to do that again. I really appreciate it. Now that we have our car, we can get decent upstanding jobs and I am going to go to school and we are going to move into a house with a white picket fence.” That’s not the end goal that they have. So she’s always chasing that piece and chasing being settled, but never getting there, because that’s not his goal.

“He just doesn’t want you to leave, because if you leave, he cannot exploit you anymore”

Dr. Stephany Powell (06:54):
Yeah. Can you imagine that how hurtful that could be? Or if we’re talking about the situation that maybe some of your listeners are in when he gets caught because he’s uploaded a video and then he tells you, “I’m not going to do it again”, and you are hoping and praying that he doesn’t and you believe him. But when he tells you that, he knows he’s going to do it again. He just doesn’t want you to leave because there might be kids or he might lose half his pension, but he knew when he told you that he’s not going to do it again, that the odds were that he was going to do it again. He just doesn’t want you to leave.

Anne (07:40):
He also doesn’t want you to leave because if you leave, he cannot exploit you anymore.

Dr. Stephany Powell (07:45):

Anne (07:46):
And because he groomed you in order to be able to exploit you in the first place, he’s not going to want you to leave because then he will lose access to being able to exploit you because that was the purpose of it.

Have we unwittingly taught men how to manipulate us?

Dr. Stephany Powell (08:01):
Because what you did unwittingly is you have taught him how to manipulate you.

Anne (08:08):
Yeah, that breaks my heart. Can you talk about that a little bit more?
Let me tell you my experience with it and then I’d love to hear yours from my point of view. I did this, so this is very common and I want all the women listening who have done this (I’m pretty sure everyone has), to not feel bad. So when I say this, please just take a deep breath and be like, Okay, this is what everyone has done: recognize the things that are happening and be concerned about it, and then take this list of like, “Hey, it’s not okay that you use porn”, or “I feel really uncomfortable when you scream in my face”, or “I feel uncomfortable that you leave for periods of time and I’m not sure where you’re going”. And they give their abuser a list of things that they have noticed.

Do we (naively) give abusers a “list” of how to groom us?

And what I have seen is that he is like, ‘Thank you. I did not know where the loopholes were, I didn’t understand where I was not grooming well enough. And I really appreciate you giving me this list because now I can groom you by making sure I tell you where I’m going, even though I’m lying. I can make sure that you never find out I use porn.’ And it’s basically a list of how to groom me, how to make sure your abuser says and does the right things so that you do not observe it and he can continue to exploit.
So when I talk with victims, one of my thoughts is always to say “Safety is the top priority. Give yourself emotional and psychological space and observe from a safe distance to see what he’s doing. But you don’t need to tell him. You don’t need to say, ‘Hey, I saw you doing this. I’d like you to stop.’ Because then he’d be like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that my mask was cracked. I’m going to make sure to put some super glue right there so she can’t see through it’, but he’s going to continue to doing the same things behind the mask.” Can you talk about your experience with that?

“It goes back to knowing ourselves and being enough”

Dr. Stephany Powell (10:11):
The interesting thing about that is that at the time that those conversations are happening, he may not realize what it is he’s learning until he starts to use it, because he knows you so well in the universal you. What’s also interesting about that is, aren’t we taught in terms of being in relationships with others that we’re supposed to communicate? It’s almost like a gamble. ‘I know I’m supposed to communicate. I know I’m supposed to say that when you do this, this hurts me in the hopes that because I’ve told you that you won’t do it anymore, not that you’re going to bank it and putting it in your toolkit for grooming purposes.’ So I think that it goes back around to what we were saying earlier because we can’t go around life not communicating and then expecting to be in a good relationship. It goes back to knowing ourselves and being enough.

“If we know that we are enough, we don’t need someone else to validate us”

How many times do we tell ourselves or we tell our girls, you are enough. If we know that we are enough, we don’t need someone else to validate us. So even though I’ve told you that when you do such and such, this hurts me, now I see that you have now used that against me. I can say, ‘Okay, that’s okay. I gave you that information. You used it against me, so that means I need to go.‘ So it goes back again to us women really realizing that who we are is enough. Regardless of whether we have someone in our life or we don’t, we’re going to be okay.
What we don’t want is to have someone that I trust and love use everything that I’ve told you against me because if I’m not there for you to use it against me…
When I was in law enforcement, I came on when there weren’t that many females. And so there was a lot of obstacles with that. But I had this saying on my desk that I actually heard from Oprah Winfrey that says, “What you say about me is none of my business.” Think about that for one moment. What you say about me is none of my business. In other words, I can’t invest in that negativity.

“What people say about me is none of my business.”

Anne (12:52):
Because you had experience with LAPD and then you worked your way up and became a leader in that department (I don’t know if you feel comfortable, this was not the topic), I would love to hear maybe what you learned as a woman in that environment and the things that you noticed that women face in just the workforce in general, but particularly in law enforcement. Would you mind sharing maybe some of the things that you learned and some of the ways that you built up maybe your own confidence in the face of men who didn’t think that you deserved to be there or wanted to put you down or anything like that?

Dr. Stephany Powell (13:33):
You know, what I learned when I was with the Los Angeles Police Department, I joined in 1983 and there weren’t that many women, and I was an African-American woman, so I was often told I had two strikes against me. I’ll never forget the day that I walked into my first police station and one of the training officers looked at me and he says, “You have three strikes against you. You’re black, you’re female, and you’re short.” And the first thing that popped in my head was, and I said this to him, “Wow, those are three things I can’t do anything about, but I’m here.” I think for me, and keep in mind I was like 25 years old, I think what it really taught me was that again, what people say about me is none of my business. I can’t do nothing about what you think.

“We have to tell ourselves and our daughters that we are enough”

All I can do is be the best that I can be. And so what I had to also realize is, what is it that they were afraid of? What they were afraid of (the men were) that being female, being short, that I would not only not be able to handle myself out in the field dealing with bad guys, but I wouldn’t be able to protect them. And so once I was able to prove that, the issues started to diminish a little bit, but every time I’d go to another station, it would be the same thing.
I think it goes back to even what we’re talking about right now. Society has taught us as women that we may not be smart enough or we are too little, we’re too frail or it’s just like we’re never enough. And that’s why I keep saying that we have to tell ourselves and our daughters that we are enough.

“Someone else doesn’t determine whether you are enough.”

Someone else doesn’t determine whether you are enough. You’ve got to realize that you are enough. And when you walk into that room with all that confidence, when you walk into a relationship and that person knows that you are confident enough, I’m telling you. If they are thinking ill will or they’re thinking about manipulating that person, if you’re strong, they’re going to know you’re not the one.
Now, if it’s a man that wants an equal partnership and wants somebody that’s confident and not afraid of your confidence, that’s what you want. Not someone who’s figuring out a way to manipulate you. Another thing that I also realize is that sometimes people will stand on top of you to make them taller. And if that’s the case, you need not to be that footstool.

Anne (16:28):
And isn’t that, I mean in a nutshell, the very definition of exploitation using someone else for your own financial gain or your own gain in some way? And you’re not so concerned about them, but you’re just trying to use them to make yourself better.

“It’s not you – it’s the person who was doing the manipulating.”ice

Dr. Stephany Powell (16:43):
Absolutely. Standing on top of them to make you better. And I think that we as women really need to understand that we’re enough. And if this has happened to you, it doesn’t mean that you just weren’t smart enough or you should have seen it. Don’t blame yourself. That’s how people do get manipulated because they don’t see it coming. You just didn’t see it coming. If anything, it was because you were open enough and you were vulnerable enough and you loved enough that it happened. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. So it’s not you. It’s the person who was doing the manipulating. They’re at fault, not you. So stay beautiful, stay who you are. Just know that not everybody deserves your love and your openness.

You don’t owe anyone your “niceness”

Anne (17:54):
And you don’t owe it to them either. I mean, a lot of men will give women the impression that because you’re a woman, you owe it to society, to men to be nice, right? Or to act or look a certain way. I had a man tell me, I think I talked about this on the podcast, “You’re too cute to be single.” And I was like, so my cuteness is for men, apparently. It’s not just for me. So apparently you have to be owned or you have to be on someone’s arm in order to make your cuteness worthwhile. I can’t just be cute by myself? I found that to be really telling of the view of how women should act or what they should be like rather than thinking, I don’t need to date even if I am cute. What are you talking about? What does that have to do with anything and why is it any of your business what I’m doing with my cuteness? I think that women tend to want to be liked. We want to fit in. So using those social norms to coerce us to say, “Hey, well, you’re supposed to be nice, or you’re supposed to be kind, or you’re supposed to be service oriented.” Rather than realizing that women can make choices that benefit them. They don’t always have to be making choices that sacrifice their own well being for other people.

“People have to earn my trust and love”

Dr. Stephany Powell (19:28):
Yeah, you’re not other people’s property. You’re not. That’s why you have to be your own self. So what if you’re not married? So what you don’t have a boyfriend? It doesn’t make you any less of a person, but society will make it seem that way: “You’re cute. Why are you single? What’s wrong with you?” There’s nothing wrong with me. I have standards. People have to earn my trust and love.

Anne (19:54):
Well, for me, I say, “Well, I don’t want to date.” That’s what I say. It’s not just that I have standards. I’m not looking to date at all.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. You have so much experience and you have learned so many important lessons over the years that we are benefiting from hearing about. Is there anything else you’d like to share before we end today?

“Whatever has happened to you is not your fault”

Dr. Stephany Powell (20:19):
I just want to say that ladies, I’m no different than you. I am a work in progress and a lot of things I’ve learned personally and professionally have been because of bumps and bruises. Not in the physical sense, but just things that have happened in life. And so this is how some of us learn this way. Some of us learn ahead of time. The bottom line is, whatever has happened to you is not your fault. You learn from it, you move forward. But what I really want to impress upon everyone: Be you, be your loving self and just know not everyone deserves your loving self. Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed the conversation and I just hope everyone that’s listening stay safe and be well.

1 Comment

  1. CC

    I appreciated that the speaker had a law enforcement background. Can she speak to the issues where policemen seem to side with the abuser when they are called, “Hey dude, you know how over-emotional women get.” I watched The Gabby Petito clip on the news and I knew right then the policeman didn’t understand her body language or why she was saying what she was saying – I had been through that.

    How do we get the police the extended, appropriate training so that they can discern better when there is abuse? How do we get training to clergy to stop accidentally encouraging women to stay in an abusive relationship because marriage is important and instead help them get to emotional and psychological safety with their children who are also being abused?

    I did stay too long because of those things, but decided it didn’t matter what everybody else thought. Even though I was told I would go to hell, I decided I was already in hell and kicked him out after being abused for 25 years. We need religious and civil leaders who understand and care enough about the well-being of women and children to act in a manner to help victims get to safety.


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