Human Trafficking Awareness Video

Human Trafficking Concerns Us All.   An awarneness video launched on March 8th, 2011 .  Do you know anybody in this video?

 Mar. 8, 2011   

BEST PRACTICES IN TREATING HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIMS AND BARRIERS TO RESCUING SURVIVORS                                                                                                 “ Hear It First Hand: Trafficking Stories, Policy & Best Practices”  NYC .  Helene Hayes, RGS, PhD.                                                                                  

 In this brief, ten minute talk, I’ll be addressing two issues; Best Practices in treating victims of human trafficking and Barriers to rescuing survivors. Firstly, a word on the context in which I am addressing this issue, namely, the global research and interviews that I’ve conducted with 65 documented cases of adolescent girls and women who had been trafficked into the sex trade. I interviewed the women in recovery programs, many of them run by Good Shepherd Sisters and staffs in Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Belgium, Paris, Milan, Palermo, the United States and Saipan.   My working premise in conducting this research is that international trafficking in women is an extreme symptom of the economic disparity that exists between third world  and developed countries, and the gender disparity that exists between men and women, particularly women who are poor and on the lowest strata of their societies.  While I can’t establish a cause and effect relationships between variables; I can point to global conditions or an enabling environment that traffickers take advantage of; 

  • Globalization and the feminization of poverty, migration and survival,
  • Supply and demand in the sex trade,
  • The impact of gender inequality,
  • The infiltration of organized crime,
  • The phenomenon of dislocated economies and destabilized countries in Eastern Europe being drawn into the trafficking “business.” 

 Here in the U.S., during 2006 and 2007 I interviewed five women who had been trafficked into the United States in New York City, Minnesota, San Diego, California, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.  The women came originally from Central African Republic, the Philippines, South Korea, Russia, and Lithuania.

 The geographic locations within the US where the women were forced to work: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Virginia, New York, Denver, Arizona, Houston and Dallas, Texas.

 Specific kinds of places where the women were forced to work included: Massage parlors, spas, strip clubs, construction sites, Karaoke clubs, street prostitution, escort services, brothels, and private apartments.   

 The goal of the research that I’ve done is to publish a book that places the voices of these women; the world’s most silent, dispossessed and nameless of women, at its center.  Carefully rendered research can make it difficult for individuals and governments to avoid facing this harrowing global crime.  Seeing trafficked women as full human beings can be the first step in a needed shift in consciousness and conscience. 

Next I’ll share what I’ve learned about Best Practices here in the United States in terms of treating victims and barriers to rescuing them:

 In an overall sense, barriers to rescuing international trafficking victims here in the US are formidable; beginning with language and cultural barriers, and the stigma associated with sexual exploitation and prostitution.  International victims are not likely to identify themselves to law enforcement and service providers as being involved in prostitution.  They are deeply ashamed of what they have been forced to do.

  • Victims are at greatest risk of harm by their traffickers when they try to escape their environment.  Often, they have seen what happens to those who have run and are caught; beatings, broken legs, gang rapes.  Some traffickers tell the girls that if they run, they, the traffickers, have their address in Romania, for example, and will go there and take their youngest sister to replace them.
  • The most immediate need that international trafficking survivors have is for physical and emotional safety in terms of short term shelter but at the same time the structure of the program should not be so restrictive as to remind the women of their environment during captivity.
  • Language assistance through interpreters/ translators is also crucial during the initial phase in helping the women to communicate with First Responders and those trying to provide assistance. 
  • This basic need is accompanied by the necessity of legal assistance to deal with the woman’s immigration status, the on-going investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, and acquainting victims with their legal rights and available services.
  • The level of fear that international trafficking victims experience is multi layered; fear of the trafficker and bodily harm, fear of retaliation on their families, their immigration status and fear of deportation, fear of law enforcement due to past experiences of corrupt law officials being in collusion with brothel owners and traffickers in their home countries.
  • Traffickers may also have told the women that they will be perceived as criminals without papers and that if arrested or rescued, they should immediately ask for repatriation back to their home country.
  • Cultural sensitivity is also key during this initial phase.  In several programs that I visited in Milan, Palermo and the Philippines, trafficking survivors who had completed their recovery programs were hired  by the programs as field workers, outreach workers, individual and peer counselors, or as “cultural mediators” to reach out to other trafficked women initially and in terms of long term treatment. 
  • Peer-led services can reduce or remove some of the cultural and language barriers that most trafficked women experience when they try to communicate with professionals about their extremely painful and, for them, shame-ridden experiences.  The women feel culturally estranged, trust has been broken on a very profound level, and they yearn to feel “normal” again.  Peer counselors can help to bridge some of this complex emotional terrain. 

 In general it can be said that international trafficking victims are hard to find, hard to reach, and unlikely to self-refer. Outreach by service providers can be stymied if there is an overall lack of agreement on the issue of human trafficking itself, differing definitions and perceptions about who is an actual trafficking victim, and, ultimately, how each case is handled.  Effective coordination across agencies can make all the difference in the lives of furtive and desperate survivors of human trafficking.1.  A significant challenge to identifying victims of human trafficking is that many have been viewed, and in some instances continue to be viewed, as criminals, e.g, undocumented immigrants, or prostitutes, and therefore, subject to arrest, detention and/or deportation.  This situation underscores the need for adequate and ongoing education, training, and commitment on all levels of federal, state, county and local law enforcement.  This is a daunting task due in part to the decentralized structure of our law enforcement system.  There are more than 13,000 local police departments across the U.S.    But, what would happen if each of these police departments had its own anti trafficking unit ? 2.

In the United States there are huge gaps between estimates of trafficking victims and actual, identified survivors who are enrolled in recovery programs.  As of June, 2007, 1,264 foreign nationals have been certified by the US Department of Health and Human Services as victims of human trafficking and, thereby, eligible to receive public benefits through the T Visa program. 3.


The Action Step that I would recommend is that you have a “laser-beam” focus on the implementation phase of the   US federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) enacted in the year 2000, and re-authorized in ’03, ’05, and ’08 and any other pertinent State Anti Trafficking legislation. View them in terms of issues that prevent trafficking victims from being rescued and being the recipients of desperately needed services. The TVPA is a powerful and evolving legislative tool that has been revised and amended three times since 2000, but it requires an ever vigilant citizenry.  That’s the beauty of our system, what doesn’t work can be fixed. 4.

 In closing, no one form of human trafficking is more unacceptable than another; they all represent the complete elimination of free choice, and the violent removal of personal freedom. As a nation, we need to continue to develop a holistic, human rights-based framework to ensure that all human trafficking victims have access to equitable, survivor-centered, and client-driven human services.5. Not an easy task but a worthy and profoundly challenging invitation to become vitally engaged in the very best of struggles.                                                      

 1. “Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature,” Heather J. Clawson, Nichole Dutch, Amy Solomon, Lisa Goldblatt, Grace, U.S. Health and Human Services Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims, AUG. 2009. p.15

2.  The Slave Next Door : Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, (2009)  Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, University of California Press, p.266

3. Heather J. Clausen, et al, Review of Literature, p.4

4. Bales, p.267

5. Bales, p.116

Leave a Reply