by Sarah Davis, HTC Associate
“Human trafficking is not a new phenomenon. Activists have worked throughout history to eradicate slavery and exploitation, and no one organization or individual stands alone in this movement. The problem is complex and constantly changing, and everyone must play a role in creating a solution as organic and adaptive as the issue itself.”
These words from the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT), poignantly illustrate one of the most forgotten realities of human trafficking: there is no silver bullet will eradicate it. Despite this fact, there is a clear preference among U.S. legislators to endorse solutions to human trafficking that are law-enforcement focused. This is not an illogical response nor something to belittle and disregard. Is it the perfect response? No, of course not. But, drawing upon the LCHT’s multifaceted methodology, no one approach to eradicating human trafficking is.
Nevertheless, the decision within the United States to focus primarily on funding law enforcement-based initiatives does place preventative measures on the back burner. At first glance, it appears prevention is of primary concern to U.S. decision-makers: it is listed in the “4P” paradigm – prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships – advocated by Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons as part of its holistic response to combating human trafficking. In reality, however, the majority of federal legislation being introduced in Congress appears to prioritize more of a prosecutorial stance, and, more recently, an emphasis on rehabilitation services for trafficking victim/survivors.
Why this apparent disregard? Preventative approaches to human trafficking often do not get top billing on proposed legislation because they are – to put it bluntly – unsexy. Consider two counter-trafficking options. One ensures a certain number of children were taken out of a life of exploitation in one year. Another proposes creating educational initiatives that empower communities to make long-term decisions and thereby reducing the vulnerability to trafficking.
It is hardly a surprise which sounds more appealing (or at a minimum, easier to explain). Both approaches are imperative in reducing the prevalence of exploited individuals, but the first has a more immediate appeal. It is easy to show how many victims have been “rescued” from trafficking or to count the number of successful prosecutions. It is more difficult, however, to demonstrate the number of people who are never trafficked because they benefitted from a program reducing their vulnerability to being exploited in the first place.
Anti-trafficking prevention efforts, when executed in a thoughtful, well-researched manner, can be a powerful tool. One example of this is through the community-based strategy of Free the Slaves. While not averse to expending resources ensuring the prosecution of traffickers, as an organization, Free the Slaves focuses primarily on empowering communities, believing that when these groups are educated and equipped to address human trafficking, people are less likely to be vulnerable to exploitation and the vicious cycle will cease to exist.
Their model “focuses on identifying at-risk communities and then developing the intellectual, organizational, legal, political, and physical assets needed to liberate those enslaved and overcome fundamental vulnerabilities to slavery.” Since every community’s needs are different, every model is adjusted to meet those circumstances and executed through local partner organizations.
Free the Slaves’ model of addressing the needs of communities and emboldening vulnerable people groups is monitored and evaluated by the organization and many of their reports demonstrate that the approach is sustainable. Their ongoing challenge is one many other groups working in the non-profit, government, and even private sector struggle to overcome: funders and lawmakers are more familiar with the idea of breaking up a trafficking ring than working within a community to educate an entire generation to be mindful of traffickers’ tactics.
We need law enforcement who are willing to go undercover and find exploited individuals. We need doctors and social workers who can provide rehabilitative care that is unique to the needs of trafficking victim/survivors, regardless of the type of trafficking they endured. We need lawmakers writing robust laws and lawyers who seek justice for those who society might not treat fairly. We especially need to hear the voices of victim/survivors within policy decisions, and, just as importantly, we need researchers who construct models that empower a community towards ensuring human trafficking becomes a nonexistent injustice.
Prevention does not automatically ensure that human trafficking will one day be eradicated, but it nevertheless is an approach that has demonstrated it deserves equal attention among counter-trafficking efforts.
Photo via Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade . Use of this image does not indicate their endorsement.Print This Post