Moving Forward in Our Anti-HT Work

January 5, 2021

We bring into this new year reflections and lessons learned from a season that has challenged us, and emphasized the importance of flexibility and adaptability to better serve survivors of human trafficking .

As NCCASA continues to provide leadership, training, and technical assistance in the anti-human trafficking movement in North Carolina, we ask that you consider these 3 A’s we plan to move forward in our anti-human trafficking work: 

1) in better AWARENESS work that effectively addresses misinformation and represents impacted populations, 

2) in ADVOCACY that is survivor-centered and trauma-formed, and 

3) in ACCOUNTABILITY with one another in the movement.

AWARENESS work that Effectively Addresses Misinformation and Represents Impacted Populations

Local programs and organizations doing AHT work continue to express concern about which messages and narratives are centered and which messages continue to fall short in holding our attention and concern. This has played out in the viral outcrys against child sex trafficking that consistently omit essential parts of the entire picture, as addressed in this December blog post. When we understand how oppression and marginalization rather than a child’s behavior are risk factors for experiencing sex trafficking, we’ll see why the message of just keep your kids safe from traffickers is an incomplete narrative of how trafficking works. Inaccurate and incomplete messages about human trafficking misdirects our vision and response. If we lack accurate understanding of the problem, those who are trafficked, will remain unseen, and ultimately unserved. 

Anti HT work requires us to “pull back the lens” to see the problem more clearly to not only better identify and serve survivors, but also to see the larger systems and influences in our community that contribute to the presence of human trafficking, which helps us in self-assessment to check our own biases.  NCCASA’s Prevention Team recently created a Human Trafficking Prevention Toolkit to advance the work in primary prevention, and help us better connect the dots to human trafficking. We are looking forward to the 2021 NC Sexual Violence Prevention Summit and its theme,“Pulling Back the Lens: Expanding Our Understanding of Violence Prevention,” will further equip us with language and vision to better address human trafficking from a public health model, emphasizing systems change, and the priority of building resilient communities, especially among the special populations most impacted by and vulnerable to human trafficking.

Local programs continue to be impacted by false reports of child trafficking recruiting schemes fueled by assumptions of abductions by strangers in white vans, and have resulted in frightened parents calling, overwhelming local and national crisis lines and reports to law enforcement. It can be challenging for programs to do their work when overshadowed by newly formed organizations, or social media groups, that market themselves as experts and train on many of these false narratives.

NCCASA continues to provide leadership in training to equip local programs to be the anti-human trafficking experts in their communities. In December, NCCASA concluded a four-part training, “Expanding Our Reach to Serve Survivors of Human Trafficking,” in a cohort learning environment. Participants worked in teams to craft awareness messages and strategies to push out in their own communities. While programs are encouraged to foster relationships and collaborate with other organizations doing AHT work, it is imperative that experts in the field--those with lived experience and those working directly with a variety of survivors who can accurately represent survivor voices and stories-- lead local and statewide awareness efforts. Such experts understand the complexities and challenges survivors face in achieving justice, healing, or equal access to services. NCCASA will offer the “Expanding Our Reach to Serve Survivors of Human Trafficking” training again in 2021.

Survivor-Centered and Trauma-Informed ADVOCACY 

Human trafficking can involve economic fraud and abuse, visa violations, sexual violence, debt bondage, criminal records that impact employment, education, and housing opportunities, challenges to fair representation in the criminal justice system, as well as the burden of past and ongoing trauma. Survivors whose cases involve law enforcement must navigate multi-agency responses that are exhausting, and perceived coercive treatment to provide information  for successful prosecutions. Survivors also face stigma and unequal treatment with other service providers and advocates because of involvement in commercial sex work. Because of the complex needs of survivors of human trafficking, and the increasing ways rape crisis center and dual agencies are called on to serve them, service providers must be equipped with information to build survivor-centered and trauma-informed advocacy skills through continuing training and professional development opportunities. 

Our work with local programs provides insight into the training programs NCCASA develops to meet these needs. NCCASA continues to support member programs who serve HT survivors by technical assistance in problem solving, challenges in outreach, specific issues that face survivors, or connection to resources. To futher support this work in providing resources rooted in frameworks that prioritze empowering survivors, we are pleased to offer an updated version of our Equipping North Carolina’s Rape Crisis Centers to Serve Survivors of Human Trafficking. 

We are also excited to share the Administration for Children and Families Region 4 Southeast Regional Human Trafficking Advisory Group’s Guiding Principles document that provides a best practice framework to guide service provision. We highly recommend this document to any agencies doing AHT work, and a timely resource in light of the growing body of misguided and harmful “rescue” service frameworks.

Another timely resource that supports trauma-infromed and survivor center advocacy includes the National Advisory Committee on the Sex Trafficking of Children and Youth in the United States Report . This report is a comprehensive response to child and youth sex trafficking in the form of twelve topics, along with recommendations for implementation in service, policy and community reponse. This significant work moves the AHT movement forward in its procedure for states to evaluate their implementation efforts of these recommendations.

ACCOUNTABILITY with One Another in the Movement

Lastly, I’d like to lift up how accountability with one another moves our AHT work forward. NCCASA had the unique experience of bringing together leaders in the North Carolina AHT landscape last fall to view and discuss together the Shared Hope International film “Chosen” in a forum titled: “Chosen: A Celebratory Critique.” We reflected together about the ways the AHT movement has grown and met many of the challenges already mentioned in this article.  At its close, I facilitated a discussion of these questions:

  • What gaps and changes do you feel we have yet to fully address?
  • Many of us have a piece of the puzzle but not the whole picture. How do we put these pieces together to establish the work while staying in our lane? How do we know what our lane is based on our unique strengths and frameworks?
  • What are some actionable steps we can take to move the AHT movement forward?

It was a time of reflecting together, listening to honest feedback, and identifying the gaps where we need to grow. As a result of these valuable discussions, NCCASA will offer a series of Critical Conversations, in which we will hear from experts in their fields, to address critical issues within the AHT movement. In each “conversation” we will take a deeper dive with current research or practice, provide policy or program recommendations, and encourage accountability with honest dialogue. You can register for our first one in the series for January 12:  Getting Our Message Out: Workshop for Effective Human Trafficking Awareness.

In conclusion, we want survivors of human trafficking to be heard, supported, and valued. We have a lot of work to do, and we are ready to assist you in your AHT work. Let’s move forward together on this with renewed vision and commitment!

Blog Post by Courtney Dunkerton, NCCASA Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist