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Are you doing what you can for Latin@ survivors of human trafficking?

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

world in handsBy: María Cristina Pacheco Alcalá, Project Manager, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network

Human trafficking is a crime that occurs when a person uses force, fraud or coercion to control someone else for the purpose of making them engage in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or other services against their will[1].

In 2000, the United Nations published a protocol[2] that outlined elements of human trafficking:

  • Action: recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons
  • Means: threat, use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or abuse of vulnerability, and receiving payments or benefits to grant control over a person for the purpose of exploitation
  • Use of a person for purposes of exploitation: prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, removal of organs, practices similar to slavery

Some of these elements could be easily confused with the signs or manifestations of other types of violence, such as domestic violence, which is one reason why it becomes so important for direct service providers to consider the victim’s entire situation in the proper context and try to gather as much information as possible during the process. Some risk factors for human trafficking include deplorable conditions in the trafficked person’s home country: civil war, public unrest, poverty, political status, lack of value and respect for women and children, impact of natural disasters and how gender roles are viewed and constructed.

For survivors, these conditions pressure them to seek safety for themselves and their family, while dealing with potential trauma, poverty, disability, and lack of language access, among others. Additionally, immigrant survivors face extra barriers in terms of various forms of oppression such as racism, anti-immigrant sentiments, sexism, heterosexism, and classism.

Current research on Latin@ survivors of  human trafficking is limited and provides little information about the context and challenges faced by survivors and even less information is available on the services that organizations provide to these survivors.

Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network’s research center recently published A Scan of the Field: Learning About Serving Survivors of Human Trafficking. The report was created to increase understanding about how human trafficking survivors receive services from domestic and sexual violence organizations. Some of the findings include:

  • Out of 80 domestic and sexual violence organizations that served victims and survivors of human trafficking, 75 said the victims included women, 66 said victims were ethnic/racial minorities, and 66 said victims were immigrants.
  • 52 organizations served mostly or only sex trafficking survivors as compared to organizations that saw multiple forms of sex and labor trafficking.
  • The top five most frequently available services to survivors of human trafficking included: case management, counseling and support groups, crisis hotlines, transportation, and child/youth services.
  • The top five advocacy efforts provided to survivors of human trafficking included: protective or restraining orders, court-related support, school advocacy, housing/landlord advocacy, and benefits for immigrants.

This study also completed case studies of five organizations to identify promising practices and challenges experienced in meeting the needs of survivors of trafficking. The following lessons learned were shared:

  • Understanding the nuances of human trafficking and intersecting forms of violence is critical
  • Organizational development is necessary to adapt to the needs of survivors
  • Cultural and linguistic responsiveness is key

These lessons learned are also reflected in Casa de Esperanza’s understanding of effective services for Latin@ survivors. In Casa de Esperanza’s experience of over 35 years working with survivors of domestic violence and, most recently, identifying survivors who have experienced human trafficking, we have learned that building trust with our Latin@ participants is critical to providing services. It is our position that organizations need to be culturally responsive when providing any services. When we think about human trafficking survivors, we must also think about building organizational capacity, assessing and evaluating current services and procedures, diversifying resources and funding, establishing more partnerships with human trafficking service providers that ensure language access, providing a trauma-informed response, and having legal resources and information to support survivors.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and it is our intention to continue raising awareness but also to provide culturally relevant tools that support Latin@s. Consider taking a couple of minutes to read more information on human trafficking or register for our webinars on the topic. Also take some time to reflect with team members or colleagues regarding your organization’s experience with human trafficking, what services you currently provide, how your services can be expanded, and what efforts you can lead to raise awareness about this serious topic. For support during this process, we provide training and technical assistance; you can request this by emailing ta@casadeesperanza.org

[1] National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

[2] United Nations (2000). Protocol to Suppress, Prevent and Punish the Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XVIII-12-a&chapter=18&lang=en

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