Anita S. Teekah, Esq., Senior Director of our Anti-Trafficking Program, answers frequently asked questions about human trafficking.
January 16, 2019
By Anita Teekah
To raise awareness about the terrible crime of human trafficking and what Safe Horizon does to help, this Human Trafficking FAQ will discuss the work of Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program (ATP) and what lies ahead for the issue in 2019 and beyond.
Human Trafficking FAQ: What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is the practice of obtaining adults and children under circumstances of force, fraud or coercion, for the purposes of commercial sexual activity or other forms of forced labor.
Victims of human trafficking suffer physical, psychological and sexual violence, and come from all walks of life, including all ages, races, genders, ethnicities, socio-economic status and educational background. Many victims don’t know that what is happening to them is actually human trafficking, and therefore don’t self-identify as victims. Red flags for human trafficking include an employer confiscating a worker’s passport or other legal documents, restricting movement, threatening to harm the worker or his/her family, and withholding pay for work provided. Human trafficking is, at its core, about controlling another human being for commercial use, and perpetrators can take many forms, including family members, business owners, government officials, and romantic partners.
Often, people identify or define human trafficking as sex trafficking, and while sex trafficking is a widespread form of human trafficking, it is just one type of trafficking. In fact, labor trafficking is more pervasive than sex trafficking, and most of our ATP clients are identified as labor trafficked. Globally, over 20 million individuals are confirmed labor trafficked survivors, according to the most recent estimates from the International Labor Organization. Some of the industries most afflicted by human trafficking include domestic work, restaurants, hospitality, construction, agriculture, and fashion. It is likely that most, if not all, of us, have encountered a victim of human trafficking, but didn’t know enough to identify the situation as trafficking.
How Does Safe Horizon and ATP Help Victims?
Safe Horizon established the ATP in 2001 in a concerted effort to provide critical wrap-around services for human trafficking victims in the New York City area. Since its inception, ATP has helped more than 1000 victims from over 80 countries. ATP is the largest direct services provider for trafficking victims on the East Coast and offers comprehensive legal and social work/case management services, supportive counseling, limited financial assistance, family reunification assistance and training and outreach for our community partners. Simultaneously, ATP is a member of multiple national, state and local policy and advocacy coalitions, and advocates for strong survivor-centered legislation at all levels of government. Over the last year and a half, we lobbied for reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and attempted to pass legislation that would vacate criminal convictions for trafficking survivors for crimes that their traffickers forced them to commit. We work with all stakeholders to ensure that our anti-trafficking work is informed and comprehensive. Our key partnerships include those with law enforcement from all agencies, service providers and community organizations.
Most importantly, all of our work is client-centered and trauma-informed. The program’s strength is in our broad scope of services, and our holistic approach with all clients. Our extensive history as direct service advocates has helped us develop a level of expertise and engagement that only a limited number of organizations around the country can offer. We take lessons learned from our clients and survivors to formulate policies, strengthen ATP and advance our survivor leadership group, Voices of Hope. Our clients are the experts in their own lives and have been invaluable members in the movement to combat human trafficking.
What Does the Future Hold for Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts?
The political events over the last two years have greatly impacted advocacy and direct service efforts by anti-trafficking organizations, including ATP. Although human trafficking initiatives have historically enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, we are seeing an anti-immigrant shift that adversely impacts our clients. Over half of our survivors are foreign nationals and have suffered horrific mistreatment at the hands of others. They should be treated as human trafficking survivors entitled to assistance, and not as immigrants to be deported. Nonetheless, the recent reauthorization of TVPA reconfirms the United States’ commitment to preventing human trafficking, protecting survivors and prosecuting trafficking crimes. Much work remains, however, and the next few years will be critical for appropriate implementation and enforcement of TVPA mandates and policies.
As we move into 2019, ATP will continue to fight for sufficient funding and resources to serve all victims of human trafficking, regardless of nationality, type of trafficking or gender. We will also strengthen existing initiatives to increase awareness of labor trafficking and investigation by law enforcement. Criminal justice reforms for our survivors, including vacatur of their criminal convictions, are also critical to establishing their enduring stability post-trafficking. Our strategic membership in leading thought-coalitions ensures that the voices and concerns of survivors remain paramount in all anti-trafficking advocacy, regardless of the political climate in which we are working.