Lessons Learned in the Fight to End Human Trafficking

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Human trafficking wears many faces

Human trafficking — which includes both labor and sex trafficking — can happen in any industry, to boys and girls, men and women, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. Therefore, there is a need for policy discussion and media coverage of the full range of trafficking victims that we and other service providers see each year. A one-size-fits-all approach to combatting human trafficking may leave some survivors out in the cold.

Poverty, sexism, homophobia, racism and other forms of inequality contribute to exploitative conditions

The situations that make a person vulnerable to human trafficking are the situations that make people vulnerable to other forms of victimization as well. For example, the glaring lack of shelter beds and employment options for homeless young people leaves them particularly vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of traffickers. Similarly, societal attitudes that scapegoat immigrants for our nation’s problems further isolate foreign-born victims of trafficking from help and protection. Until the full range of contributing factors is recognized and addressed, many people will be vulnerable to ongoing abuse. A law enforcement strategy alone will not sufficiently address this problem.

Survivors need to be believed

Nothing is more disheartening than for an individual to take the courageous step of describing their exploitation to those in position to intervene and provide assistance, only to have their story dismissed because the circumstances sound unfamiliar and thus improbable. Over time, by building awareness of the realities of human trafficking, we can create an environment where every survivor who speaks out will be believed and supported.

Survivors’ voices must guide our work

Survivors are the experts on their own experience. The voices and experiences of survivors, therefore, are crucial to informing service delivery, public policy, law enforcement and advocacy efforts in this field. Decisions that are made without the cooperation and consent of survivors are less likely to succeed, and can even leave them more isolated, distrustful and vulnerable to abuse.

Services to survivors must be expanded

There must be continued investment in client-centered, culturally competent services to survivors of human trafficking. From emergency housing, legal assistance, specialized health care and counseling services in the short term to immigration relief, job training and community engagement in the long term, it is essential that additional public and private resources are dedicated to help survivors achieve safety, stability and lives free from exploitation.

Job training and professional development are critical in helping survivors move on

Traffickers keep victims isolated from support and opportunity. Thus, for many survivors, it can be extremely difficult to enter the workforce after escaping a trafficking situation. To support a survivor’s lasting recovery, we need to create more opportunities for survivors to build new skills that will allow them to be self-supporting and independent over time.

A fractured national immigration policy contributes to the problem of trafficking

Temporary work visas that unintentionally restrict trafficking victims’ ability to break free from bondage. A national policy to compare arrestee’s finger images with immigration databases that creates fear and distrust particularly among undocumented victims of domestic violence and trafficking. Disputes in Congress about reauthorizing key legislation that explicitly provides protection to victims of trafficking and other crimes. Taken together, the lack of a coherent national immigration policy creates conditions ripe for the exploitation of vulnerable persons.

Targeted preventive education works

Victims of human trafficking can be difficult to identify. Fear, abuse and isolation often prevent victims from seeking assistance. A concerted, cross-systems strategy to identify and reach victims of trafficking is necessary. Safe Horizon understands this need and provides in-depth training to government, social service organizations, law enforcement bodies and other entities who are likely to come into contact with victims of this crime. Our efforts are working but much more needs to be done.

We all have a part to play in the solution

When the efforts of service providers, law enforcement and government are aligned, the efficacy of what we collectively offer to survivors of human trafficking is dramatically increased. Policies that recognize the role trafficking plays in offenses such as prostitution — particularly for young people — allow survivors to be offered services instead of jail time. We have demonstrated that meeting the complex needs of survivors — healthcare, housing, legal services, immigration relief — will more likely result in a cooperative witness and a successful prosecution.

Community members can play an important role in the struggle to end human trafficking by patronizing companies that engage in fair labor practices, reaching out to elected officials to encourage comprehensive policy responses, contributing time and resources to organizations working with survivors, and spreading the word about human trafficking.

Safe Horizon's mission is to provide support, prevent violence and promote justice for victims of crime and abuse, their families and communities.
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