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Stop Sex Slavery: Efforts Honored by the UN and CNN

A brave diminutive Nepalese woman was voted the CNN Hero of the Year 2010 in the star-studded Thanksgiving eve televised celebration of real people who make a difference in the world. The 10 men and women from around the world had been nominated and voted by the public on CNN’s website throughout the year.  Hollywood celebrity and anti-slavery activist Demi Moore, was on stage to hug Anuradha Koirala, when she accepted her award and $100,000 from CNN. 

Koirala, who said, “Human trafficking is a crime, a heinous crime, a shame to humanity…I ask everyone to join me to create a society free of trafficking. We need to do this for all our daughters,” Koirala said.

It’s a testimony to the fact that the world is paying attention to the problem of trafficking. 

About 3 years ago at a screening at the United Nations, I had seen a riveting docu-drama about child sex trafficking called “Holly,” produced by Israeli-born producer Guy Jacobsen, who founded the Redlight Children Campaign to help fight child prostitution after being horrified while being solicited by little girls while wandering the streets of Cambodia, with a little one telling him, “I yum yum very good.” Posing as a client to film scenes of the underworld, the writer-director Guy Moshe had bodyguards and had to smuggle footage out, facing contracts taken out on their lives during filming.

I knew trafficking was happening in other parts of the world, but then one of my colleagues at the United Nations, Joan Levy (who co-developed the International Student Journalism program with me), told me that the problem is right here in America too. I interviewed Joan about the work of her NGO, End Child Prostitution and Sexual Trafficking of Children for a television series I hosted of UN NGO leaders:  http://www.lightmillennium.org/unngo_profiles/joan_alevy_drjudy.html.

Then just recently, the issue of trafficking was front and center again at the United Nations, when Demi Moore and her husband joined the UN Secretary General for the formal launch of the Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking at a panel on November 4, 2010 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. 

Moore described the plight of a 17-year young girl she met who had been plunged into sex slavery, “When she was 11years old, she was given a mandate to make $1,500 a night. If not, she was beaten.” 

The story resounds for thousands of girls around the world trapped in trafficking, a global problem Moore and her actor/activist husband, Ashton Kutcher, are devoted to stop through the work of their DNA Foundation (the Demi & Ashton Foundation).

The Trust Fund is part of the new United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly last July. The plan coordinates efforts of countries and organizations against trafficking which victimizes more than 2.4 million people, mostly women and children, in forms of exploitation like sex trade, domestic servitude, organ removal and forced labor, forced marriage or begging.

UN Secretary General G Ban Ki-Moon described the plight of the victims, that “they end up stranded, friendless, trapped in modern day slavery” and that “they may be seized by fear – fear that they will be treated as criminals even though they have been forced to engage in criminal acts.”

Other panelists included UN General Assembly President, Joseph Deiss, New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning author-journalist, Nicholas Kristof (co-author of “Half the Sky: From Oppression to Opportunity for Women Worldwide”), Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which is managing the Fund and UNODC New York office Chief, Simone Monasebian.  In the audience were civil society leaders in victims’ rights, experts from academia and law enforcement, NGO representatives, and sex slavery survivors.


The stage was adorned by signage of the UNODC and the Blue Heart Campaign -- the Blue Heart is the international symbol against human trafficking and of solidarity with its victims.  “Have a Heart for Victims of Human Trafficking” is the Trust Fund’s fund-raising appeal.   


Fedotov noted the 3 P’s of the strategy: Prevention of trafficking in persons, Prosecution of perpetrators, and Protection of victims. 

Identifying victims is often difficult, however, because of indoctrination and blackmail that makes them fear for their lives and their families.  

Eradicating trafficking has to include governments, celebrities and others,”said Fedotov, quoting Ashton Kutcher that trafficking is “not cool.” Acknowledged were Ambassador Antonio Pedro Monteiro Lima of Cape Verde and Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral of Portugal for their leadership in establishing the Global Action Plan, and UNODC Goodwill Ambassadors, actors Mira Sorvino and Nicholas Cage and painter Ross Bleckner, for their advocacy on behalf of trafficked victims.

Moore was introduced as being “a master on the internet” as “she has 6 million followers on twitter and the UN has only 125,000.”  The audience laughed.  Moore is well-known for her staring roles in films such as “Ghost,” “Indecent Proposal,” “A Few Good Men,” “Striptease,” “GI Jane” and last year’s “The Joneses.” 

How did the Moore and Kutcher decide on this issue?  Moore explained, “We didn’t think we had something we connected with…Then we met some girls who had been abducted….and could not just sit back…we spent a year educating ourselves…[we] became overwhelmed about the numbers of vulnerable children who were being robbed of their childhoods.”  

Moore noted myths including that the girls want to do it; that sex slavery is such an invisible crime that people can say “I’m not seeing it.”; that it’s an epidemic with no cure; and that “the collective unconscious needs to change” to celebrate women and respect their bodies. 

“It’s difficult to motivate people to have that dirty little conversation [about trafficking]”, Moore said, wondering about how you would sit around the dinner table and tell children about 3 year olds being raped by gangs of 20 men.  Yet people have to know.  “Drugs can’t talk, arms can’t talk, but people can,” she said.  “They can be allies in trafficking if they know how the dirty industry works.”

Expressing sensitivity speaking to a UN audience, Kutcher apologized for only speaking in the English language, and for his impassioned speaking style, saying “I’m sorry I get so fired up…you’re not supposed to do that at these things.”  The audience chuckled and  a panelist said that he should be made a UN Ambassador.

Kutcher, well-known for his role in the Fox sitcom “That 70’s Show” and producing and hosting the popular TV show “Punk’d”, and lately in movies like “Valentine’s Day,” is now known for the phrase “Real men don’t buy girls.”

Once men hear about trafficking of girls from the average age of 13, Kutcher said, “suddenly it does not become sexy.”  He added, “Men should be standing up against this crime…Men need to know that girls don’t grow up saying, ‘When I grow up, I want to sleep with strangers’” and that they have “an optionless life,” he said, urging, “Stop calling it ‘the oldest profession’ as if it were a job.”

Panelists acknowledged Sweden’s success in combating trafficking by putting pressure on the “johns” and making the business less successful.  Prosecuting the customers (not the women), making anonymous johns “not so anonymous” and making male customers accountable, resulted in reducing the number of johns by 75% and reducing the numbers of commercial sex slaves by half.    

“There is a difference between the desire for sex and sex itself…. Sex for itself is a wonderful thing [and a choice], but buying sex is not [and is different],” Moore said. She described pimps as “Daddy Day Care” offering promises of treats and trips to the mall, as well as love and the sense of belonging that troubled girls respond to and need. 

Panelist Ruchira Gupta, founder of the NGO Apne Aap which promotes anti-human trafficking initiatives and women's rights in India, said UN pressure is necessary and that member states need to band together.  Besides rescuing the women and providing shelters, the women need job training to establish an independent life and need “to be treated as human beings” who can make decisions.   

Other solutions noted by panelists: Attitudes have to be changed, for example, that men have unbridled sex drives, and that giving out condoms solves the problem when in reality it protects the men from AIDS but does not protect the girl victims. Also, women need to be considered equal; “Equality is a campaign that needs to be launched.” Additionally, the “business model” of trafficking has to be affected, such that money is not made; in one example, an owner turned her brothel into a grocery store.

Donors in the audience spoke. The delegate from the government of Egypt announced that the First Lady of Egypt, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, has launched an initiative to “Stop Human Trafficking Now.” The delegate from Luxembourg pledged to donate money and the speaker from Malaysia pledged USD$5,000, saying that “While the amount is not big, it is a commitment.” Other donors are the Government of Qatar ($500,000) and Orascom Telecom.

U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who had just won re-election and whose district includes the United Nations, congratulated the UN on the Voluntary Trust Fund, and mentioned the importance of legislation.  She noted that trafficking rates are high in the U.S. and that the American government is giving this crime priority, with the effort being bi-partisan despite new divides in Congress. That reminded on my friend Joan Levy’s NGOs’ efforts.

Two survivors of trafficking who founded NGOs to prevent their fate, were in the audience: Rani Hong, founder of the Tronie Foundation and Rachel Lloyd, founder of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services).  Lloyd expressed disappointment the panel did not include survivors, suggesting that “our voices are not as valid as other experts… but our voice is as valid.” The significance of her journey and her presence at the meeting was acknowledged from the chair. 

For more information, see http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking-fund.html and to pledge to the Trust Fund – by governments, foundations, organizations or individuals -- contact Ms. Simone Monasebian, Chief of UNODC New York Office, at 1-212-963-5631, or email monasebian@un.org


Rosanne Cash on Life, the List and Johnny Cash’s Big Black Hats



The late country music icon, Johnny Cash, was asked one day by a fan, “Are you Rosanne Cash’s father?”  Now Cash’s daughter, Rosanne, is telling her story of the challenges of growing up as the child of that superstar performer and how she finally came in to her own.


The auditorium of the 92 Street Y in New York City was packed on October 7, 2010, as Rosanne was interviewed by American novelist A.M. Homes in an engaging conversation style, answered audience questions, played her favorite Bob Dylan song live, and later signed copies of her new book, “Composed.” 


As a psychologist, of course I was fascinated by her revelations about her childhood and how she overcame writer’s block and brain surgery.  Some highlights from the evening on:


(1) Growing up the daughter of Johnny Cash (and his first wife, before his marriage to June Carter).  Rosanne admitted that “At first, it was difficult growing up with a famous dad, who was ‘an iconic figure’.” She “resented it at first” and “had a chip on my shoulder about my parents” but then went on the road with him (when she was 18 years old) and “realized I could be bitter, but saw he had a bigger mission.”  Still, she moved to Europe to “separate myself” and later felt about her heritage that “it became beautiful.”


(2) Her favorite topic:  quantum physics, as she says, “there is such poetry in the language of physics.” Her pay-off for speaking at Harvard’s Kirkland House was meeting any professor at the top Ivy League school.  She picked physics professor Lisa Randall, featured in the New York Times for her work on extra dimensions, whom Cash says, “dumbed down for me… asked me about music and became a friend.” Quantum physics unravels mysteries of the universe!


(3) Overcoming fears in her career. As a 24-year old, she wrote a song about street people, that became a big hit, but she says, it “scared me to death.” Despite being an Grammy-award winner, Rosanne reveals, “I had a lot of fear to overcome…I had stage fright… [thinking] Why am I doing this? [wondering] should I just be “in my father’s shadow all my life…never being as good as Bob Dylan (her favorite songwriter).”

She got over writers blocks by saying to herself, “Keep doing it” until in her 40s, when she decided “I got it.”  Now, she says, “When it’s really not coming, I go to the refrigerator.”

A recent big success is her studio album, “The List,” with 12 of the 100 songs her father gave her when she was 18 on a list of essential country and American songs.  (The album includes vocal duets with Brice Springsteen and Elvis Costello among others). 

She finds inspiration from American philosopher, inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller, in his advice to “always to tell only the truth, and all the truth, and to do so promptly—right now.”

(4) Overcoming adversity. Rosanne echoed a phrase my mom often tells me, about having to develop a “thick skin” once she moved to New York City – which anyone who lives here knows you need to survive this tough environment.  Fortunately (describing a perfect combination in my psychological view), she said she has “a thick skin but an open heart.”

In 2007, Rosanne had brain surgery, While fortunately the tumor was benign, as a result, she sometimes has headaches and aphasia, once saying “batteries” when she really meant to say “credit card.” The upside, she says, is that she still gets some great ideas and that her “music got 27% better.” Also -- as everyone who has gone through trauma knows – while you can feel as Rosanne does, that “there is not enough time to complete what I have to complete,” you also develop like Rosanne, “a sense of the precious every day.”

(5) About musicians needing to have social responsibility:  We often hold celebrities and artists to a high standard, insisting they be role models for a better world. Says Rosanne in response, “There’s nothing worse than proselytizing, but be your authentic self.”


(6) Cultural clothing symbols.  Rosanne liked my jacket (see picture), A grey Nicole Miller with beaded lapels.  Funny how a piece of wardrobe can take on a life on its own, becoming a cultural symbol.  Johnny Cash was always known for his big black hat, but daughter Rosanne says “he was not a big hat guy.”


Rosanne’s address to the adults followed a discussion with a group of youth, launching an educational outreach program, “The Lyricist’s Voice,” provided free to New York City high school students, combining classroom sessions, workshops, and meetings with award-winning authors and musicians about their art. The 92nd Street Y's Poetry Center Schools Project is supported by Time Warner Cable New York and Ovation TV (the interesting TV culture-channel for whom for whom my long-time friend from CBS-TV, Ellen Schned, works).





Commitments for Social Change

Clinton Global Initiative Helmets for Kids
A man holding colorful helmets immediately drew my attention as I entered the bustling exhibit hall at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).  Grieg Craft, founder of Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIPF), explained to me that over 100 million motorbikes on the roads of Asia have resulted in traffic accidents that have become the major killer of young people and children.  Grieg’s organization gave 350,000 children in Vietnam lightweight “tropical” helmets that have saved many from death.  Just as touching, the helmets are assembled by physically disabled workers.



I was impressed with Craft’s story because I experienced the terror of the roads in Vietnam first hand.  On a trip to that country after giving a speech in Singapore, I was walking one rainy night in the streets of DaNang with my assistant, Deborah Shoenblum (at the time, one of my students at Columbia University Teachers College, now a full-fledged social worker, doing good for people), darting among bikes and motorbikes perilously zipping, zigging and zagging in both directions.  Sure enough, an older man on a bike skidded in front of an oncoming car and was thrown to the ground, bleeding. No one made a move to his aide, so I rushed to his side and begged a passing driver to take us to the nearest hospital.  Driving through dark back streets, we finally arrived at a dilapidated hospital building.  After a long wait, he was brought into a room and laid on an old torn, falling-apart chair, that to my shock, as a dentist’s daughter, I recognized as an antiquated dental chair.  The instruments were from a similar era.  I paid his treatment bill, and tried unsuccessfully to reach any relatives.  The experience was traumatizing, and the memory made me really appreciate Craft’s project.

“Helmets are not a sexy issue,” Craft told me (using a catchy phrase he didn’t realize related to a field I knew well).  “But in the development world,” he added. “This is a road war of epidemic proportions.”  Given that road accidents without helmets cause brain damage and kill more people than malaria and other diseases, Craft refers to this project as the “Global Helmet Vaccine Initiative.”

Craft’s commitment is deep, given that one brother was killed in a motorbike accident and another was hit by a speeding drunk driver. Also, in 1996, he told me, he was a successful and ambitious Ferrari-driving party-going entrepreneur in real estate, steel, oil and gas, but when a big deal went sour, his soul felt “empty” and he had an epiphany:  “I woke up one morning and said, “There has to be more in life than this.”  I hear a similar story from a growing number of people who tell me, “I want to make a difference in this world.”

The American-born philanthropist has been successful in launching a national helmet wearing law in his beloved Vietnam, with compliance resulting in a 24% reduction in injuries and 14% fewer deaths in one year, despite that people persistently complain that wearing one is “hot and heavy” or “ruins my hair.”

His campaign is now expanding into India and Africa (Senegal and Uganda), thanks to partners like the InterAmerican Development Bank.  Of course, there has to be funding, and CGI is an ideal place to bring donors together with do-gooders.

Road safety even got the attention of the United Nations, when Secretary General Kofi Annan launched the World Traffic Report on Road Traffic Safety, and, I remember, Iran’s UN envoy, Mohammed Javad Zarif, Acting President of the United Nations’ 58th General Assembly, chaired a session addressing global road safety.

The CGI exhibit hall, like at most conferences, is a room with booths where organizations and companies addressing global problems like disease and hunger display their projects and network.  The exhibit occurs on the first day of the CGI, held yearly at the Sheraton Center in New York City, to bring together heads of state, CEOs, Peace Prize Laureates, NGOs, philanthropists, media and celebrities to devise and implement innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems, and to make commitments of their time, talent and/or treasure to make a difference.  The three-day conference happens in September to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly when world leaders are in New York.


Other projects that intrigued me at the exhibit included a reading project for Arab children and the American Jewish World Service’s commitment to Haiti (given my own work in recovery there and being invited to join Clinton’s Haiti Action Network).



At the opening ceremony, President Clinton announced new commitments focused on relief to disaster-affected areas in the Gold Coast, Pakistan and Haiti for which he is the UN envoy (and launched the Haiti Action Network facilitated by Digicel Groups’ Denis O’Brien, which I have been invited to join).  Commitments have been made worth $224 million to help the country “build back better” (other postings describe my own commitments to that country).

The four topics this year were Global Health, Education, Economic Empowerment, and Environment and Energy.  But there was much focus on empowering girls and women.  For example, CBS’ Katie Couric moderated a session on Empowering Girls and Women, featuring the female Liberian President, the CEO of Coca-Cola, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton also announced an impressive commitment of $60 million to supply 100 million homes with clean cook stoves, to replace open fires and dirty stoves, and thereby reduce illnesses like childhood pneumonia and low birth weight.  Morgan Stanley, the Shell Foundation and the UN Food Program are pitching in.  Another project helping women is Stree Mukti Sanhatana’s commitment to train poor women rag pickers. 

Mobile phones were also a big topic of discussion, with cell technology being harnessed for economic empowerment to provide access to data to help girls stay in school and farmers get their products to market.  Refugees United committed to register families about missing loved ones; Tostan’s Jokko Initiative teaches literacy in Senegal; and Digital Democracy is establishing a text-messaging service in Haiti to connect women leaders and a call center for gender- based violence, and training women to document attacks in camps.  I’ve heard that financial transactions will all be online in the future, and the Mobile Money for the Unbanked project is already piloting mobile money platforms! 

Celebrities with a cause are always present.  In the past, I watched Angelina Jolie address throngs gathered to see her.  This year I was in the elevator with Barbra Streisand (in trademark black) and her husband James Brolin.  On panels were Ashley Judd (board member of Population Services International) and Ashton Kutcher (co-chair of the Demi and Ashton Foundation).  Of personal interest, the former President of my alma mater Smith College, Ruth Brown, now President of Brown, was on a panel about “Investing in Women and Girls.”   

President Obama came to the closing session, introducing his wife as the featured speaker, with the most flattering speech I’ve ever heard about a spouse, saying that her popularity outranks his, making him glad he doesn’t have to run against her for an office.  The First Lady spoke about her passionate cause:  those American troops and their spouses be called upon to serve as consultants and assistants in world projects.  The events ended with Clinton interviewing Bill Gates, who has traveled with Clinton to many parts of the world, especially Africa.  Many of us were surprised that the billionaire philanthropist was not so optimistic about the reduction of world hunger and the eradication of major diseases, two of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals that governments of the world agreed to address and have been struggling to achieve. 






The 8th Annual We Are Family Foundation Gala hosted at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City


“We are Family” is a tune that stays in your head.  Remember Sister Sledge singing lyrics like  “I got all my sisters with me...We’re giving love in a family dose…Have faith in you and the things you do…”?

I love those messages.

The song was co-written by legendary songwriter and producer Nile Rodgers, a friend of mine.  Nile wrote huge hits of the disco scene, like "Le Freak" and "Everybody Dance," and also produced the likes of David Bowie, Duran Duran, INKS, Diana Ross, the B-52s and Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” album.   

Then after 9/11, he started the “We are Family Foundation” (WAFF), (www.wearefamilyfoundation.org), a nonprofit organzition, inspired to promote a global family, and now supporting educational projects in 20 countries.  After 9/11, the master musician organized re-recording the hit song with over 200 musicians, celebrities and personalities, which was then made into a music video, documentary and version with children’s TV characters.

WAFF had their big fund-raiser Tuesday night with awards and performances by a bevy of stars.  

I was delighted to see B52’s Kate Pierson, with her gorgeous flaming red hair and clear blue eyes.  It was especially moving because just the day before I had met an adorable little girl with red hair and freckles (in Sam’s Club), whom my mom and I had told she was beautiful.  Sadly, her dad shared with me she is constantly picked on – bullied – by other girls in school, pointing out her freckles and red hair and calling her ugly. 

I was so upset.  “What do you do to help her,” I asked the dad?

“We do the “and” and ‘so’ technique,” he explained: that when the girls say mean things to her, she should be calm (since bullies like a reaction) and simply say “so” and “and” and walk away.

He explained that he has also called the bully girls’ parents and they supposedly talked to their children but that he fears it only makes things worse. Telling school officials, he said, have also not stopped the verbal attacks.

My mom and I both looked at the little girl and told her, “You are so beautiful.  You  are special. I know it’s hard to de with this, and for you to believe now that you are beautiful but you are!  You are different – in a wonderful way! The other girls are jealous.”

I suggested to her, “How about saying to them calmly, ‘It would be better for you to be nice.’  That might show how confident you are and not upset by them.” Maybe it would also teach them a lesson.

She looked at me shyly and agreed she would try that.

I asked Kate Pierson what she would say to that little girl, as she also has beautful blue eyes and even more flaming red hair.

“I would tell her that she should appreciate who she is!” Kate told me. 

Great answer! It’s right in the We Are Family spirit!

Another guest that night had a message that appealed to me as a psychologist. Susan Cohn Rockefeller produced the documentary “Striking a Chord:  Music can Heal Invisible Wounds” (www.strikingachirdthemovie.com); I certainly know that research proves that music has power to heal. In fact, my own band The Stand Up for Peace Project, writes and performs music to heal, and our first song was specifically for healing after 9/11, just like the birth of WAFF!

Co-host of the night political satirist Mo Rocco said the perfect comment to me (as a psychologist), when I asked him about what he feels is special about him.  “I am good to touch,” he said, describing that the skin on his face is so soft and that his velvet jacket feels good to touch.  “You’re very right,” I told him, “Touch is very powerful, not just for pleasure but for healing.”

WAFF embodies the message of Noble Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu: “If you want to change, you must be the change.”  In the spirit of peace, the WAFF Humanitarian award that night went to Jackson Browne for spreading peaceful messages through music. 

When Browne was being interviewed by Lauren Mikler, my friend from HLN’s ShowBiz Tonight now at NY1, she asked him the perfect question, right in my ballpark: how does his more folksy-style music combines with Nile’s more up-tempo disco sound? He described how well they complement each other!

In my lingo, it’s the question:  “Do opposites attract?”  So many people ask me that, in my role as a psychologist and dating expert. We get along great, Jackson explained. I agree!  Opposites can attract balance each other, and learn from each other.  And it is also true, by the way, that “birds of a feather flock together.”

Jackson and Nile also epitomized another wonderful psychological principle: friendship and supporting each other’s lives and work glues people together – even if you go separate ways for years.  That was proved by a surprise reunion that night for Jackson and my wonderful videographer teammate (who produced and edited the video in this story), Sandi Bachom, who grew up with Jackson in California, and brought along a photo (with a message on the back) of him at 17 years old looking handsome holding his guitar.  Seeing Sandi, he gushed!  Even she and I have had our own reunion, after meeting years ago at the spa Rancho La Puerta but not reunited until I noticed this energetic redhead filming Kurtis Sliwa’s fundraiser. 

The evening turned gold in another way: an impressive $2 million was raised—amazing for this economy, when the NY Times only recently ran an article about benefits suffering.  Some of the money goes to support another of WAFF’s laudable projects, Three Dot Dash, which supports teen leaders around the world working for peace.   A true child prodigy was at the gala, who spoke like such a mature young man, who told me that his musical preferences range from Chopin to the Beatles.  It’s encouraging to see such talent and composure in such a youth – encouraging for our future in music and life!


Dr. Judy quoted in NY Times on bad-boy Charlie Sheen 




Dr. Judy talks with CCTV during the Chilean miners rescue


Dr. Judy on the Curtis Sliwa radio show


Curtis Sliwa, Radio Host


David Arquette Spills Sex Secrets on Radio about Split with Wife


Are men becoming expendable?


Chile miners rescue: Dr. Judy Kuriansky talks life after darkness

The world watched the fate of the 33 miners and on October 12, 2010 they were all rescued.  I was on CCTV-9 News (Chinese TV that also airs in the United States on Time Warner cable systems), about the psychological meaning of the experience. Here are some questions they asked me, as well as others about the emotional issues and psychological impact involved in this amazing story.

Q: The plight of the miners and their rescue has attracted the whole world's attention. Why do we care so much about this?

A:  People of all ages and cultures have been united in the miner’s experience because we all know the experience of trauma or being trapped on some level, and so we are so relieved to have such a “happy ending.”  We all wish for miracles to end our suffering and the successful rescue of the trapped miners makes us feel hopeful that such miracles can happen.  Their story brings hope, inspiration, solidarity, pride and faith in the face of enormous suffering shared by people across the world (like the earthquakes in Haiti and China, the flood in Pakistan, and even the financial crisis) as well an individual traumas (illnesses, job stress, family problems). Watching their rescue makes us vicariously experience that we too can be “saved.” 

Q: Are there deeper psychological issues?

A. Yes. On a deep psychological level, the miners being trapped taps into early childhood fears of being lost or even of being buried alive (as some scenes in movies have shown). Also, the rescue of the miners revives fairy tales read as children about being rescued (like the Prince Charming did for Cinderella) and story endings that we can come “back from the dead”.       

Q: What are the major psychological problems the miners may face in the days to come?

A:   They will likely go through a range of emotions.  Of course they first feel jubilant and relieved (like everyone in the world who celebrates with them).  But in the aftermath, as in all traumas, they can go through re-experiencing fears, especially at night in the dark or when enclosed in small places like an elevator or even a car.  They can also feel isolated, as if no one except their group, can understand how they feel.  Immediately after their rescue, they are being flooded with attention not only from loved ones, but from people around the world, the government, and media, but once they have to go back to “normal” life, and once invitations to Presidential palaces fade, they can have emotional swings, including depression and anger.  While they were initially reported as being psychologically well, memories and symptoms can emerge later (even years later), which can dangerously lead to withdrawal, problems at work or in relationships, or worse, addictions to drugs or alcohol.  They need to have support from health professionals along their path of recovery, and access to help for years to come. Their experience can be like “war shock” of veterans of battle.  


The psychological stages can morph from immediate jubilation to alternating emotions that include feeling of pride for being a survivor or inner shame for having experienced fear or losing hope. Despite having been rescued, it did take many days, which can lead to anger that it took so long.  They may be ecstatic to be re-united with loved ones but also feel isolated, thinking even loved ones cannot truly understand what they went through.  Also, while they are being called heroes, some may not feel that way inside.

Q:  Should they talk about their experience?

A: Research suggests that whether people should discuss their trauma depends on their coping style.  Not all people benefit from “debriefing,” and can be re-traumatized by going over details of their experience. Yet, some people are helped by talking about what they went through. It is crucial to know whether the person wants to talk or not.  Also, mental health professionals are essential to help people process such trauma.

Q: What about their family members? They were actually suffering with their loved ones trapped underground during the whole rescue process. How will they be dealing with the experiences?

Q:  There is talk about the miners writing a book together.  Should they? 

A:  The miners writing a book together would be a way for them to process the experience together to develop what’s called a “collective memory” and to continue to be in contact with each other for ongoing group support.  But they must be prepared to re-experience the trauma, and realize that they can have different reactions.  If some do not want to participate, they should be allowed to decline.  

Such a book will helpful to the public, to collectively process the experience, to gain further insight into how they coped, and to serve as an inspiration for overcoming traumas of all kind.

Q:  Does the miner’s age make a difference in how they adjust?

A:  Older miners have the possibility of coping because they have had more experience with adversity.  But resilience (the ability to “bounce back”) is a personal matter and depends on factors like past coping with problems and available support from others.  Some older miners took a leadership role, which can give them confidence; others may feel they did not do enough in the group process. 

Q: Should the miners go back to work?

A:  Some may want to go right back to work, like “getting right back in the saddle” when you have fallen off a horse.  Others may need time and distance from the experience. None should be forced to return to work. While it can be helpful to “get back to normal”  life will not be normal for a while for them, especially with so much attention. 

Q. Many children watched the process on TV, whether purposely or simply in passing. What are their reactions and how can they be helped?

A: Children need special attention now, to be reassured that they are safe since their fears about being lost themselves, or about losing their parent may be exacerbated by this experience.  Parents should watch for symptoms like trouble sleeping, nightmares, fear of the dark,  and especially refusal to go to school (for fear something will happen to their parents while they are away).     

Q: What can we learn from this experience?

A:  We can certainly be reassured that even the most severe of challenges, anxieties and anguish can be faced and overcome, that others care, that faith matters, that there is hope in the face of extreme adversity and that life is precious.