New Partners in the Fight Against Trafficking

A young woman with a supportive adult.

Every day, thousands of young men and women are forced to live lives they never chose. Some are sold into sexual slavery; others paid minimally for back-breaking work. For income, companionship, and safety, they are totally reliant on their captors, and fear retribution if they attempt to contact shelters or the police.

National awareness of trafficking is on the rise, as evidenced by the many states that now have official task forces to address the issue. Exploitation is still a danger to young women in particular, but as this issue of NCFY Reports shows, the tools to fight it have evolved. From youth workers who are themselves former victims to mobile awareness campaigns and online tools, this is what anti-trafficking work looks like at a pivotal moment.

Read this issue. Then, if you want to learn more, check out the issue of NCFY Reports in which we looked at population-based approaches to trafficking work. You’ll also find tips on working with victims in our e-brochure, “Bought and Sold.” And our research library lists peer-reviewed articles and academic reports on the issue

Start reading.

Support System of Survivors: As Staff of Anti-Trafficking Programs, Former Victims Bring Insight, Empathy

Police found the 13-year-old in a raided house. Once in safe custody, she agreed to enroll in a recovery program for trafficking survivors. But when it came time to head over to the center, the young woman didn’t answer her phone.

Tina Frundt, executive director of Courtney’s House, a shelter for trafficking survivors in Washington, D.C., recognized this about-face; as a survivor herself, she’d lived it.

“I knew she was testing us,” Frundt says. “You have to test people when you’re in the life.”

The girl had worked with other organizations before, and when she started ignoring their calls, they’d just hold back and call her in a week, Frundt says. Courtney House, on the other hand, was proactive and went straight to the victim.

“I said, ‘You said you were ready,’ and she agreed,” Frundt says. “We went [to the program] together, which showed we were listening to her.”

Building trust is the absolute first step in helping someone leave and recover from exploitation. Because the experience of being trafficked is so specific and intense, survivors often feel they can only be understood by people who have shared it. That’s why Frundt and others maintain that having survivors on staff is of utmost importance for organizations that work with victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

“It’s like AA to me,” says Noel Gomez, co-founder of Seattle’s Organization for Prostitution Survivors, referring to the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program. “People go there because they were alcoholics and they want to be with other alcoholics. It’s the same thing for women who have been in the life. They need a support system of survivors who have gone through the same emotions and are going through them still.”

[Learn about five essential partners for stopping trafficking.]

The First Step to Recovery

Having survivors on staff is especially important at the earliest stages of working with victims, when they are just emerging from abuse, says EleSondra DeRomano, founder and executive director of the anti-trafficking agency Stars Toledo. She worked with 177 young women that police recovered in a Toledo, Ohio, prostitution sting and convinced 11 to take the stand against the abusers.

Their testimony led to jail time for the criminals.

DeRomano says fellow survivors are often the only ones who can connect with women just emerging from abuse, who often are unwilling to tell their stories to police and others.

“Survivors are the stepping stone to get them to talk to the Ph.D.’s, the trauma people, the law enforcement,” DeRomano says. “They will trust us, and they’ll try [to take our advice]. But if they’re forced, they won’t want to go. I still, when I’m backed into a corner, will get defensive.”

She adds that many trafficking survivors have had to overcome a host of problems, including addiction and sexual trauma. “If you’re truly trying to help [a young woman who has been trafficked], she’s going to be in the middle and a whole circle around her. There can’t be enough people around her, trying to help her,” and survivors should be closest by.

[Learn how specialized webinars can bring you staff up to speed on issues facing trafficking survivors.]

Staff Survivors Need Support Too

For trafficking survivors to be able to serve victims well, they have to be able to give adequate support. Every trafficking survivor’s recovery process is ongoing, so allow them to move forward at their own pace, anti-trafficking advocates say.

For example, at Courtney’s House, where all direct counseling services are provided by trafficking survivors, counselors have been through extensive counseling themselves. They’ve also lived for five years without going back into an abusive situation.

Gomez of the Organization for Prostitution Survivors says, “Some of our staff are survivor leaders who’ve received special trainings. Our goal is to get survivors to that point, if they want to, since it helps them feel they’re doing good with their lives.”

But not every trafficking survivor is ready or willing to be a confidante for people in early recovery. There are other ways they can be effective as allies, Gomez and Frundt say.

“Some might be better on the board, or in community outreach,” Frundt says. “Learn what their skills are and respect that they don’t want to tell the world about their experience.”

Guidance for Serving Trafficking Victims

Executive Director Tina Frundt of the Washington, D.C., anti-trafficking organization Courtney’s House says even when you hire survivors, you still need to take steps to respect victims’ needs and circumstances. Here are Frundt’s four guiding principles for helping young women who have just exited abuse:

  1. Hold survivors to their commitments, and honor your own as well. “They’re trying to see who they can trust and rely on,” says Frundt. Recent survivors may change their minds or go back on established plans just to see who still sticks with them through the confusion. The important thing is respectfully holding them to their commitments, and making good on your own promises.
  2. No touching, but be loving. For people who are still emerging from the trauma of trafficking, physical contact can be threatening. “But at every intake, we say we love them,” says Frundt. “I tell them, ‘I loved you when you were on the street and you didn’t know me. I love all of you.’”
  3. Get familiar with online and street outreach techniques. Homeless and trafficked youth, Frundt says, have learned “how to blend in, how to not get noticed on the street.” She trains her staff—not only her street outreach team—to follow a similar protocol in their work in order to keep young people from becoming defensive. For more information, see our NCFY Reports issue on street outreach.
  4. Learn the nuances: The term “trafficking” can mean many things, and Frundt makes sure that her staff understands what she calls the “four paradigms” of human trafficking: pimp control, gang control, boyfriend control, family control. “Each one has a different dynamic,” she says. Particularly if you’ve never experienced the life yourself, “You have to learn the differences before you can successfully work with survivors.” 

Slideshow: Taking Trafficking Out of the Shadows

An exhibit of personal effects like a telephone, a hairbrush, and a prescription bottle.
“We asked all of the survivors we network with to send [personal effects] to us along with their stories,” says Truckers Against Trafficking’s executive director, Kendis Paris. While the Freedom Drivers Project highlights the facts and figures around trafficking, these personal items are the core of the exhibit.

Highways and rest areas are traffickers’ home turf, which is why Truckers Against Trafficking has been working since 2009 to make these places safer. Executive Director Kendis Paris founded the organization with the modest goal of spreading awareness and training for those professionals who, often unknowingly, share the road with these criminals. Six years later, she and her colleagues have rolled out their most ambitious effort yet: The Freedom Drivers Project, a mobile exhibit of trafficking statistics and personal effects from survivors.

Housed in a retrofitted 18-wheeler, the project has been in Paris’s mind for years. It became a reality in late 2013 in collaboration with the nonprofit educational company iEmpathize. (Read about iEmpathize’s additional efforts to help young people stay safe from exploitation in the next article, “Safety First.”)

In this slideshow, we talk to Paris about the purpose and future of the Freedom Drivers Project, which you can follow or visit in person. (See the schedule on their website.)

Safety First: New Courses Turn Youth into Advocates

A young person isn’t trafficked overnight. Very often, the process starts online, where young people are lured into a false sense of comfort by a potential predator, a process that can take weeks or months.

But new online tools from anti-trafficking agencies are looking to protect young people from this kind of coercion—or, more specifically, to teach them to protect themselves.

These new courses are designed to be “entertaining and interactive, not fear-based,” says Staca Shehan of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, whose NetSmartz curriculum is tailored for different age groups.

[Read NCFY’s newly updated trafficking publication, “Bought and Sold.”]

Safety Through Empathy

As education manager at the national anti-exploitation group iEmpathize, Candace Joice has helped countless young people grow more aware of the dangers of human trafficking. But the technical language in the field didn’t quite convey her point.

“When you’re a very vulnerable youth, sometimes traditional terms like ‘force, fraud, and coercion’ aren’t going to help you connect [trafficking] to the reality of your life,” she says. “We wanted them to have tools that were relevant.”

Her response was the Empower Youth Program, a curriculum designed for youth in 7th grade or older.

Empower Youth Trailer from iEmpathize on Vimeo.

Empowering youth and equipping educators to recognize and respond to issues of exploitation.

The Empower Youth Program is a tool intended to help those already working with youth to facilitate a conversation about exploitation in their schools in neighborhoods. Educators, parents, and youth service providers can utilize this five-part series of short films, activities, and discussion questions to empower teens 8th grade and up to successfully navigate the vulnerabilities in their lives in order to stay safe from exploitation.Our program distinguishes itself as both an exploitation awareness tool and a character education program with far-reaching transformative potential for your school, classroom, or youth program.
Curriculum Content:
While many prevention programs require that the host organization be present to lead the trainings, the Empower Youth Program comes in a content package (consisting of a film bundle and facilitator guidebook) that any facilitator can lead.

Empowering youth and equipping educators to recognize and respond to issues of exploitation.

The Empower Youth Program is a tool intended to help those already working with youth to facilitate a conversation about exploitation in their schools in neighborhoods. Educators, parents, and youth service providers can utilize this five-part series of short films, activities, and discussion questions to empower teens 8th grade and up to successfully navigate the vulnerabilities in their lives in order to stay safe from exploitation.Our program distinguishes itself as both an exploitation awareness tool and a character education program with far-reaching transformative potential for your school, classroom, or youth program.
Curriculum Content:
While many prevention programs require that the host organization be present to lead the trainings, the Empower Youth Program comes in a content package (consisting of a film bundle and facilitator guidebook) that any facilitator can lead.

The Empower Youth Program teaches young people about empathy for others in five instructor-led sessions and accompanying online videos that inspire group discussion. By relating to their at-risk peers’ lives and experiences, youth learn to look at their own lives and the positive and negative influences they experience.

“We find the concept of empathy absolutely fundamental to ending the culture of child exploitation,” says Joice. The idea of the program is to help young people take stock of the supports and good influences in their lives, and recommit themselves to being those things for their peers. 

The Program’s accompanying facilitator guide is designed for parents or counselors to guide a conversation. “We want young people to think about how to navigate vulnerability successfully, without get exploited.”

Safety Through Prevention

NetSmartz, developed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Children, teens, parents, police, and educators can learn from the online games and videos on their own time, online, with subject matter tailored for each audience.

For the youth courses, NetSmartz employs games and testimonials to teach about proper online safety. These resources appear on a separate website, NSTeens.

“We use real-life stories and interactive activities about what you could encounter online,” says Staca Shehan, director of the center’s case analysis division. “We have a lot on there for teens about how the Internet is obviously a great place to meet and interact with all sorts of people, but be careful of what you share and be mindful about how you present yourself. We never want to say the Internet is a dangerous place, or that kids will definitely be victimized, but we do know the realities … that this technology is sometimes used to exploit kids.”

Like Candace Joice, Shehan considers her agency’s curriculum to be a preventative measure; if young people know the dangers of trafficking and know how to avoid them, they’re less likely to be taken advantage of. “We have an obligation to guide them towards making better decisions,” she says.

[Learn about online tools that help young people learn about dating violence and healthy relationships.]