Thank you to all the Conversation Leaders for their time and commitment to taking part in this important conversation on support services for victims of human trafficking. Please take a moment to learn about the conversation leaders by clicking on their profile photos. Thank you!
Below is a list of questions to serve as a framework for the discussion in this thread:
- What are the greatest challenges to overcome when attempting to provide victim related support services?
- What are that barriers faced by victims of trafficking to access support services?
- How can legal services play a role in supporting survivors of trafficking?
There are many challenges in the provision of services to trafficked persons and for trafficked persons in accessing these services and making a meaningful use of them.
Needless to say, money/funding for services is one important challenge. Governments and donors often have their own funding priorities, which may not always be the same as the interests of trafficked persons. For example, donors may fund research, awareness campaigns or round tables but not shelters, counselling or legal aid. Of course, this is not to say that research, awareness and cooperation are not necessary, but an underfunded or understaffed shelter can have implications for the immediate safety and wellbeing of a person. In fact, research has shown that the money spent on anti-trafficking has been of little benefit to actual trafficked persons. In addition, the care for trafficked persons is often a long and time-consuming process with uncertain results, which is another reason it is often not attractive for funding.
For service providers the main challenges are perhaps exactly the financial and human resources. Cases of human trafficking can be extremely complicated and time consuming and put a strain on the organisation’s resources. In addition, trafficked persons may be ‘difficult’ or ‘uncooperative’, which can lead to frustration in the social workers and psychologists working with them, putting them at risk of burnout. It is important that service providers have mechanisms in place to prevent burnout, such as debriefing, training and professional development. However, these mechanisms also require an investment of time and money.
Service providers are an important source of support and stability for trafficked persons but this also involves the risk of creating dependency. Moreover, some trafficked persons have been in a situation of dependency for too long and do not know how to be autonomous. Service providers must find the right balance between providing assistance and building autonomy/reducing dependence by, for example, involving the clients in all decisions about their assistance and protection. It is also important to have standards of care and case supervision which identify and address such issues as they arise.
One challenge for trafficked persons to access services (in the country of destination) can be the conditionality of services on their cooperation with law enforcement. In Europe trafficked persons are entitled to services regardless of whether or not they cooperate with law enforcement, but in general the state’s interest is usually in prosecuting criminals and not necessarily protecting people. If there is no criminal investigation or if it doesn’t lead to a trial, states are very quick to organise the deportation of the person, regardless of whether this is in his/her interest or not.
A challenge in the country of origin can be the accessibility/location of the support services, which are typically located in the capital or other big cities. If trafficked persons prefer to return to their town/community of origin, they may not be able to access support structures when they need them. To address this issue, it is important to establish referral or coordination mechanisms among service providers in different regions in a country.
Another challenge can be the complicated and bureaucratic government procedures. Some government assistance, like medical care, education, humanitarian assistance, financial support, document processing, is typically available to trafficked persons, however, many of them face problems in accessing even the most basic state services and support. This may be due to lack of commitment/capacity, bureaucracy or discrimination. There is a need for NGOs to develop formal links with government agencies to provide services, which will also require training government workers in how to sensitively and professionally handle cases and increase the knowledge about what services are available to trafficked persons.
Yes, I agree with Borislav Gerasimov that there are many challenges with providing services to survivors, and funding and lack of resources seems to always be the largest obstacle. Also difficult is that survivors (especially when talking about US born sex trafficking) are often traumatically bonded with the trafficker, which means that it can take many attempts to leave "the life" of prostitution, before someone is successful in breaking free. Most funders do not like to see that (i.e people exiting programs without out positive outcomes and then re-entering programs several times), but yet that is precisely what it can take to overcome a trafficking experience. (and is what we are seeing in our newly opened safe house in New York). And although the staff is intellectually aware of how many times it can take to leave and the trauma bonds involved, it is difficult to witness when a survivor is making strides and then returns back to commercial sex. Working with survivors is a long road and there are no quick fixes.
Another huge obstacle is the lack of housing for survivors, both long-term and emergency shelter. I am sure some countries and states are better than others, but in New York City I believe there are less than 50 beds specifically dedicated to survivors. Just like domestic violence, a survivor is less likely to leave when there is nowhere to go. I, along with many of my colleagues in this fight, spend far too much of our time trying to find beds for clients, and all too often come up empty handed. That's simply unacceptable.
Lack of housing is indeed a problem and I can't believe that there are only about 50 beds for ... what - 5-10 million people in NYC? But this is a common problem. Since 2010 in the Netherlands (for about 17 million people) there are 70 beds in three specialised shelters for victims of trafficking - 54 for women and 16 for men (the situation may have changed since then, though), where they can stay up to six months. There are sometimes 'waiting lists' for these beds, although I'm not certain where victims stay during this time. But I know that there are many other shelters, for different groups of vulnerable people, where survivors of trafficking can stay too, at least short-term, for example, shelters for homeless people, for victims of domestic violence, for undocumented migrants, for asylum seekers... Although it may not always be a good idea to 'mix' together different vulnerable groups in a shelter, even women victims of domestic violence and trafficking, it is still better than leaving them on the streets. When I worked at La Strada Bulgaria, our shelter was very small (it was called a crisis unit) with only 6-7 beds, and we placed together women victims of domestic and sexual violence and trafficking, including their children. But this was only a termporary solution for up to one month. But Bulgaria, with a population of 7 million people, has at least 50 beds, perhaps more, in at least 5 shelters.
As for long term accommodation, we often tried to find for the clients some kind of state- or municipal-sponsored housing, where people pay very low rent, which are typically available for people with low or no income. I don't know if you have these in NYC and if they could be available to victims of trafficking. If not - maybe it's worth advocating for this.
As for survivors returning to prostitution, it's indeed frustrating but understandable, they don't see any better options for making a living. Of course, we need to distinguish between forced prostitution/trafficking and voluntary prostitution. Even if people give part of their earnings to a third party for protection, it may still pay better than other jobs, which require qualifications or education. It requires intensive and long-term work with the survivors to determine what their strengths are and how they can utilise them and give them more realistic expectations of their abilities and the labour market. And of course, we can try to influence their decisions but in the end, we have to respect the choices they make.
Wow, it sounds like you have more beds in Bulgaria than we do in New York City. And I think that small shelters that mix populations of clients an be a good thing. Although if it is short-term for up to a month, then in New York we have such a hard time finding longer term housing that we would be in a crisis mode again trying to find accommodation after the month was up. Were you usually able to find accommodation after the month was up? Finding affordable housing in New York City is difficult for most everyone, and we are finding that lack of housing is a root cause of trafficking for the young people that we work with at Covenant House.
I work in a homeless shelter for youth between the ages of 16-20, and we are often full and all of the youth shelters in NYC are all usually full. But when there are no beds or services for homeless youth, we find that traffikcers are waiting to pounce, seeking out homeless youth telling them the shelters are full and saying "where are you going to go, why don't you go with me?" They often don't let on that they are going to pimp them out, and wait until the youth is completely dependent on them before beating them up and pimping them out. And for people over 21, the options for shelter are even less. True, they can go to an adult homeless shelter, but many young people are afraid to go to adult shelters that are filled with much older chronically homeless people, usually with severe, untreated mental illness.
I have also seen young people who have desperately wanted to leave a trafficking situation, but have clearly stated that if they can't find long-term housing they may have no choice but to go back to an abusive pimp. Fortunately we do have many social workers who work with our youth to help them find housing options, and there are many, wonderful programs and beds in New York. But there is just not enought of them!
I am always struck by the difference between how the media portrays human trafficking and what I see in my office. In television, movies and books, you frequently see young white girls stolen by strangers from rich, loving parents and then locked up. (i.e. the movie Taken). Maybe that happens, but it's not what I see in my work. Most of the youth I work with have been trafficked by someone they know and instead of being locked up, the coercion is more psychological, often with traffickers who alternate between extreme violence and affection (often the only affection the youth has ever received). I once received a request from a very popular US magazine that wanted to feature trafficking survivors but only those "that could be anyone's daughter" that everyone can relate to. I am not sure exactly what they meant, but my guess is the homeless youth that I serve wouldn't be in that category. On one hand, the erroneous and simplistic media portrayal does help bring in extra dollars and attention, but it also makes people less likely to view the clients I work with as victims. I am amazed at how many people are so outraged by human trafficking and willing to give money and sign petitions, but when they hear about my work, my clients don't sound like their picture of trafficking victims. I am curious as to how damaging everyone thinks the media portray is? Is it an obstacle to our work? And what if anything we can do about it?
I would add that it's not only the media that portrays human trafficking and its victims in a certain stereotypical way, but often government and NGO awareness campaigns reinforce the same stereotypes - of the white girl snatched from her parents or the naïve, uneducated girl from a remote village tricked by a false job ad abroad. While these representations indeed help raise awareness and dollars, they lack the nuances of the reality and I find them problematic for several reasons.
First, in my home country Bulgaria, there is the general impression that only poor, uneducated Roma girls become victims of trafficking. While they are indeed vulnerable due to their socio-economic status, this image somehow leaves men, older women and better educated girls less vigilant when travelling or accepting job offers abroad. Even worse are the images of beaten, bruised and chained women, used in anti-trafficking campaigns and the media, because a person's mind automatically accepts this as too terrible, as something that only happens to other people. This other-ing of the victim of trafficking only serves to create pity, instead of any meaningful prevention.
Secondly, law enforcement and other agencies remember these images and narratives and look for this type of victims. It is not surprising then that the majority of identified victims worldwide were victims of sexual exploitation, when estimates suggest that the majority of people are exploited for other types of labour. Similarly, voluntary, adult sex workers are dubbed victims of trafficking, even though they are not.
Lastly, as you pointed out, this impacts our work and clients too. A woman who voluntarily travelled abroad to work in the sex industry but ended up controlled and abused by a pimp is not 'a good victim' because she 'was asking for it'. A 40-year-old man who was forced to work long hours in construction under dangerous conditions for little pay is also not 'a good victim' because 'men aren't victims of trafficking',
I'm afraid there isn't much that we can do because the media wants stories that sell - of victims who can be 'anyone's daughter', of sex, violence and suffering, of lost innocence... The only thing we can do is attempt to educate them, one journalist at a time :-) There are different guidelines out there for media how to report on human trafficking, for example, this one of ASTRA (Serbia) - http://www.astra.org.rs/astra-publications/manuals/trafficking-in-women-... and this paper from a UNODC workshop is also interesting https://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/2008/BP012TheRoleofthe...
Thanks for the media guides Boris! We have definitely seen law enforcement's struggle to understand the dynamics and identify victims of labor trafficking, despite their growing sophistication in dealing with sex trafficking, and I appreciate your noting how the media's portrayals of the "good victim" can have an impact. Anti-labor trafficking efforts are eclipsed by the overwhelming narrative of "illegal immigration" when it comes to undocumented workers.
Though I strongly believe in survivor empowerment and leadership - including as public advocates in the anti-trafficking space - I am also stunned by the lack of attention to protocol by mainstream media. CNN ran a story on sex trafficking in the U.S. and showed the faces of young clients. The New York Times did pieces on Somaly Mam's organization in Cambodia, and the faces of trafficked children were on display. Public identification should be a personal choice of informed adult survivors - and no one else.
When labor trafficking is depiected in the media - which, in the U.S. is no where near as often as sex trafficking - the narrative is sometimes naive (or worse). A writer for the TV show BONES, when planning to write an episode on labor trafficking, phoned me for clarity about "why don't victims just walk away and leave their trafficking situation?". I applaud that they asked in advance of writing the episode.
I agree with the comments above around depiction and stereotyping - crying, cowering, desperate, and young sells newspapers. The truth is that survivors are also street-smart, angry, complex, gracious, generous, kind, and resilient. Each individual handles trauma differently, and each experience is also unique. At CAST, we have served survivors from ages 10 to 77, coming from 59 countries, including the U.S. - all races, religions, sexual preferences, and each with their own set of cultural norms and responses to the abuse of sex or labor trafficking, or both.
A large portion of media today shows a significant fixation of sex trafficking and trafficking in women and children. Though this population is marginalized and deserves much attention, this is creating complications in counter-trafficking due to the influence media has not only on public perception but also on the other half of the victim population – boys.
As discussed above, the powerful traditional narrative used by media describes human trafficking through sensationalized accounts of male predators taking females hostage for sex.The conception of maleness in the backdrop of human trafficking is conceptually flawed. The socialization of the word “masculinity” has led us to disregard the notion of a male victim. This makes it extremely difficult to be aware that males, too, are apart of sexual exploitation on the victim side of trafficking. The media representation of male dominance and invulnerability obscures this.
The idea that women are more vulnerable to human trafficking and thus are in greater need of legal protection leaves men with the converse – that men are resistant and thus less in need of legal protection, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
I would add that it's not just the media but in general the patriarchal society and gender norms, which teach boys from a young age an idea of strength and masculinity that is incompatible with victimhood. Some psychologists even argue that male depression, anxiety and trauma are much deeper and more difficult to work with than women's for this reason - that men are taught from very young to suppress their feelings, not show emotions and not ask for help.
Maybe our colleagues from Covenant House and CAST, who work with homeless and trafficked youth from both genders, can say how this affects their work.
Of course, this gender stereotyping is detrimental to women too, who are more often portrayed as powerless victims in need of rescue, instead of strong, brave people who have set out on a journey to make a better lives for themselves and their families.
On a bit of a side note, next week I will attend a workshop of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women in Bangkok for journalists exactly on this topic - how migrant and trafficked women are presented in the media (see announcement http://www.gaatw.org/events-and-news/68-gaatw-news/809-the-global-allian...). We will gather 20 journalists from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to discuss how the media can portray migrant and trafficked women in a positive, strength-reaffirming way.
You are so right when speaking of the patriarchal society and gender norms. Urban Light solely focuses on boy victims since they are the ones who are often lost in the dialogue of human trafficking. We have found that stigma and shame prevent boys from asking for help. They are afraid their friends will laugh or their parents will disown them. Since they are young boys, street-living culture makes it difficult for them to get them to take up services and they live in this world where they are left to fend for themselves. The patriarchal ideologies perpetuate those masculinity issues – they use jokes and bravado as coping mechanisms making it hard to find key signs to identify their situation.
To augment this I wanted to cite from the a study on sexual abuse and exploitation of boys in Cambodia: “Other responses suggested uncertainty and a perceived lack of skills and confidence with boys that also make it hard for staff to connect with them. This may lead to development of what may be called “deficit models” in which their behavior may be interpreted as anti-social, difficult or challenging, rather than a common response to traumatic events…boys often externalize their feelings, contradicting previous expectations and stereotypes of victims (usually female) as meek and vulnerable.”*
Another thought – going off your comment about our patriarchal society and gender norms – is the idea that the focus on heterosexual relationships in human trafficking may be derived from the discomfort people feel from homosexuality, perpetuating the ignorance that it is happening in this exploitative way.
* “I Thought It Could Never Happen to Boys”: Sexual Abuse & Exploitation of Boy in Cambodia, An Exploratory Study – January 2008 (Social Services of Cambodia for HAGAR)
We also find that our male clients, especially foreign nationals from societies where men are taught to be ever-strong, are often reluctant to seek/accept help. This is especially true around emotional health and trauma. This is also true for many foreign national women. We have learned that alternative methods of emotional healing, like yoga, meditation, or acupuncture, are more popular among some of these groups.
Again, the headlines, which often feature young women victims of sex trafficking only, contribute. In the same way that the U.S. is doing a lot of social marekting to help war vets understand that it is okay to each out for help with trauma and PTSD, a similar awareness might be useful.
Responding to the above, being in Los Angeles, and coming from San Francsico, we do see a lot of boys and also transgender clients trafficked for sex (and labor, but that is more commonly known), but law enforcement focuses heavily on young women.
Yes, thank you for the media guides Boris. Those should be very helpful. In general, I have found working with the media on this issue a bit frustrating. There have of course been some wonderful reporters/producers etc, but overall, my experience with working with the media on anti-trafficking pieces has been problematic. I hear from random reporters/producers every few weeks wanting to speak to a trafficking survivor. But they usually want to focus on the most sensational and violent part of the story and not much else. They also want the most "sympathetic" victim possible, probably again going back to someone who can be anyone's daughter and as young as possible, which in their mind would probably not be a homeless youth, and definitely not a male, transgender youth or labor trafficking victim. We had one reporter/producer who promised to blur a survivor's face and show us the material before airing it, which he did not and then aired it with a bar covering her eyes but that did not distort it enough so that someone who knew her wouldn't recognize her. At this point, we usually encourage our youth not to do these types of media requests. I find it interesting and somewhat ironic that there is so much attention to human trafficking in the media at the moment, but that its portrayal is often far from reality.
Legal Services can play a large role in supporting survivors of human trafficking. In the United States, foreign born victims may apply for immigration relief known as a T visa. Eligibility requirements include: presence in the U.S, American Samoa or the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands due to trafficking, must be a victim of severe form of human trafficking (as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act), must be a person of good moral character, must be willing to cooperate with any reasonable request for assistance during the investigation unless victim is a minor, and show that he/she would suffer severe harm if deported. For victims of human trafficking, USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) does take into consideration arrests that occurred as a result of the trafficking incidence and often times waive that requirement. I do want to mention that it is possible to receive a T-visa without cooperating with law enforcement but the burden of proof falls on the victim creating additional challenges and barriers. The T-visa also allows a foreign born victim of human trafficking to apply for derivative status for qualifying family members such as parents of victim under age 21, unmarried siblings under age 18, spouse and children.
Additional legal services include civil lawsuit and vacating convictions. One of the challenges with civil suits in the U.S is the fact that unless the survivor is a victim of sex trafficking or has been sexually assaulted by the trafficker, it can be challenging to keep their identity private. For foreign born victims, not only is this challenging because of the safety component but also because the court decision then becomes public knowledge and family members, neighbors and the community learn about the monetary award. The misconception is that every decision made by the court is enforced. In cases where the trafficker does not have any assets, the survivor may not get any money at all.
So glad to see you brought up T-visa issues. While the T-visa has been a great step toward providing victim protection, it violates the fundamental principle articulated in the Palermo Protocol that victim services should not be conditioned on cooperation with law enforcement. In addition, while the T-visa process paves the way for access to other critical services and support for foreign-born victims, there is little access to these supports for those who do not need protection from deportation.
‘Reintegration’ is generally understood as the process following the end of the trafficking experience. It begins with the access to services – from crisis counselling and accommodation to economic empowerment – and ends when the survivor starts living a sustainable independent life free from violence and coercion.
The term 'reintegration' is not without its issues. For one thing, it often implies a return to the person’s community/country of origin, which may not always be the best solution and might, in fact, work against their social inclusion in the long term. It is likely that the socio-economic factors, which caused the migration in the first place, such as poverty and unemployment, violence in the family or conflict, have not been resolved. Furthermore, the stigma associated with being a victim of human trafficking or having worked in the sex industry may obstruct the acceptance of survivors back to their community. It also implies that the person was integrated into society prior to being trafficked. However, in many cases, trafficked persons have never experienced social integration or inclusion as a result of their social, economic and cultural background or marginalisation in their communities/countries of origin. Sex workers or ethnic minorities are groups that often have not been ‘integrated’ in the generally accepted meaning of the word prior to their trafficking experience. This is why some organisations prefer to speak of ‘social inclusion’ or ‘integration’.
Most of the services provided as part of reintegration programmes were already mentioned. And as Jayne pointed out, education and economic empowerment are essential for achieving survivors' independence.
Economic empowerment is typically achieved through training for the acquisition of particular skills; support for starting own business, including support in preparing a business plan and applying for loans/grants; or job placement. Economic empowerment activities are usually accompanied by counselling, which helps survivors understand their abilities and limitations, be assertive and know their labour rights, learn how to prepare a CV and present themselves at a job interview, identify potential fake/abusive job ads, negotiate a contract and interact with others in the work environment. The counselling process often continues after the survivor has found a job, to support him/her in keeping it.
All these activities should be organised in consultation with the survivors themselves, as they know best their own strengths, ambitions and desires. For example, the survivor may not place such value on education or may simply be eager to be economically independent as soon as possible and service providers should honour this wish. Job skills training should be relevant to the labour market. Skills that are typically provided to survivors of trafficking, like knitting, sewing, hairdressing or baking can be both patronising and useless on the labour market. Instead, survivors may have greater benefit of, for example, a foreign language or computer literacy courses.
From 2007 to 2014 the King Baudouin Foundation (Belgium) funded 15 NGOs from the Balkans to provide reintegration services to victims of trafficking. The programme produced several very interesting and detailed publications, available at http://www.kbs-frb.be/call.aspx?id=293255&langtype=1033 (at the bottom under Related Publications), the lessons from which could, at least partly, be applied to any region.
Usually we were able to find longer-term accommodation and, of course, if our crisis unit still had free beds, they could stay there longer, after the one month was up. But like you said, it takes a lot of time and efforts. We would often refer to government or other NGO shelters, explore if the client has relatives with whom they can stay for a certain period, or attempt to arrange municipal-funded housing for them. Of course, the best option, also for the client, was if she could already find a job and rent her own place but I think this happened less often... But our clients were mostly adult women trafficked abroad and returned to Bulgaria. It's different from the clients you work with.
I want to second the notion of lack of funding as one of the challenges in providing supportive services to survivors of human trafficking. NGOs are often limited to an amount of funds or time that can be spent on a single survivor, based on government funding. Most agencies will utilize private funding or donations to meet the need of a survivor beyond government funding. The problem with private funding can once again be traced back to media’s portrayal of what human trafficking is and who are the victims. I agree with Jayne and Borislav in that media often chooses to portray human trafficking as only sex trafficking and tend to focus on one type of a victim. This makes it extremely difficult to obtain private funds for victims that do not fit into that category and agencies that serve those victims. An example of this would be two agencies going in to speak to a foundation. One agency describes their program as a rescue mission while the other agency describes their program with an emphasis on empowerment of individuals that are survivors of sex trafficking and/or labor trafficking. The individuals serving on the Board of a foundation will almost always gravitate towards the rescue mission due to the information they have been predisposed to. I say this not to discourage NGOs from applying for private funds but to encourage them to educate these foundations on the complexity of human trafficking.
We are in the midst of an analysis of our local labor protection system, and our preliminary findings suggest that while there may be decent legal protections available to workers, workers overwhelmingly lack effective access to these mechanisms. The legal responses designed to protect workers from exploitation or provide redress to victims are siloed and difficult to access, most workers don't know they exist, and wokers who do access them risk retaliation. In addition, the burden is on the victim to (1) recognize that they are a crime victim and (2) initiate and pursue the case while still earning a living.
I would love to hear recommendations for effectively meeting the needs of victims of labor trafficking and exploitation. What has worked?
I don't know if this addresses your question but it reminded me of a good practice that I recently heard from our colleagues LEFÖ from Austria regarding cases of labour exploitation. They found that victims of labour exploitation benefit much better from labour legislation than the trafficking framework. This means using the Labour Code and taking the case to a labour court than the criminal code and criminal court. Trafficking cases are heavy, you have to prove recruitment, harbouring, transportation, though deceipt, coercion, etc. for the purpose of exploitation. While labour legislation requires the presence of only exploitation/labour violations to start the case. The workers themselves, too, don't need 'reflection period', shelter or psychological counselling, but only legal aid to claim unpaid wages and, if possible, compensation for non-material damages. LEFÖ did this through cooperation with trade unions and migrant rights organisations. Thus the process is much faster and avoids all the complications of a 'trafficking' case. But I don't know what the possibilities are in the US or even other European countries.
On a side note, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights carried our research recently on severe forms of labour exploitation in the EU (http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2015/severe-labour-exploitation-work...). One of the ideas after the research was to criminalise '(severe forms of) labour exploitation' which is at the moment not defined or criminalised in international legislation. Of course, this raises questions, for example, about and what degree of severity should be criminalised (and what to do with 'mild forms of labour exploitation'), but in general I think it's a step in the right direction. People can be exploited without being 'trafficked' and exploitation (the end result of trafficking) should be criminalised without the need to prove recruitment, transportation, harbouring or deception or coercion.
Another challenge when dealing with the media, but also with policy makers, is the lack of accurate data in the anti-trafficking movement. It is difficult to obtain data for a crime that is hidden and that is defined differently in varying jurisdictions. Mixing in such a broad range of types of traffikcing adds to the confusion. People frequently recycle statistics that we hear from each other (with no one knowing the original source). But if these statistics are inaccurate, we risk facing a backlash. For me personally, unless I am citing a specific study or sample, I tend to avoid general statistics as much as possible. But of course, statistics are what the media always wants.
And policymakers do need numbers to help with budgeting. At Covenant House International, we are currently working on a study to look at the trafficking experiences of homeless youth in up to nine cities. We have already conducted similar studies at Covenant House New York and Covenant House New Orleans where we found that around 15% of the sampled youth had experiences that fit the federal definition of trafficking. We are excited that the new study should give us information on trafficking prevalence and experiences across several large US cities. However, this is obviously only addressing one segment of the trafficking population (homeless youth in a specific age range who have sought shelter).
I completely agree with you. The lack of data is a problem but even bigger problem is bad data, like the Global Slavery Index, as just one example. Our organisation also never makes claims about the number of trafficked people or whether trafficking is increasing or decreasing, including during sporting events, or even whether it's 'become pandemic' or whatever other catch phrases the media enjoys. And in reality, even the hard data on identified or 'presumed' victims of trafficking can be challenged. We can ask ourselves, if let's say 60% of all identified victims were trafficked into the sex industry, does this mean that more trafficking occurs there or does it mean that more law enforcement efforts are spent there than in other sectors? Certainly it's easier to raid a brothel or a red light district than people's private homes to find exploited domestic workers or greenhouses to look for exploited mushroom pickers.
When talking to the media, we always try to point these things out and to try and convince them that it doesn't matter how many people are trafficked - just that they are and it's a severe human rights violation. Or we try to direct them, instead, to research how many trafficked persons received compensation, how many were granted residence permit in a foreign country, how many were accommodated in shelters - the things that actually matter. But of course, this requires more research and doesn't sound as shocking as hundreds of thousands of children being raped in our back yards...
I agree with the wide and comprehensive points raised as challenges to providing support services. The significant issues of finance, will, state response, media contribution, societal awareness are all valid and significant points. Let me also add my two cents worth.
There are four main types of challenges in providing support for victims of trafficking.
- FInancial Challenges: Probably the most straightforward of challenges, this is however linked to the rest of the issues raised. Financial challenges emanate from the fact that the notion about traffcking cases negative media attention and the lack of state determination to provide adequate support to victims. Most of the time there is an inherent financial gain either to the State from the trafficking process or from the individual traffickers. When compared to the several services that require money and effort, the former seems more lucrative. In most cases it is the inability to understand and see the human element of human trafficking that leads to this.
- Challenges from Preconceieved Notions: The preconcieved ideas about victims of trafficking and the view that they are somehow iconclasts who will destroy the values so vehemently held onto by the society. There is an inherent gap between victims of trafficking and accepting them as part of the society too. These notions impede on serious establishment of support services in many countries.
- Challenges from Negative Media Attitudes: Media plays a vital role in making or breaking an issue and in many cases media reflects the ideals of the society. These negative portrayals or stereotyping of human trafficking victims either as prostitutes of in some cases as low level workers who are infested with social woes prevent the social and community support required for the establishment of support services.
- Lack of State Determination: State response to providing support to victims of trafficking often relates to how the society percieves the problem and as talked about earlier with the negative portrayal of victims as opposed to the act of trafficking, in many countries, the State adheres more importance to criminalizing the victims than apprehending the perpetrators of trafficking