January is not only the month for New Beginnings, it is also Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and so it is a fitting time to introduce myself as NCCASA’s new Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist. It is a particular honor for me to bring what I have learned from direct services and advocacy from the local “micro” level into statewide work.
I began “HT” work as a result of a coffee shop discussion with friends and colleagues about the growing problem of human trafficking, and how it was showing up in North Carolina. This discussion led to grassroots organizing to bring HT awareness and advocacy to our community. For the next six years, I served as Alamance For Freedom’s co-founder, Program Coordinator, and eventually Executive Director.
Alamance For Freedom was a response to the specific need in our community based on a lot of listening and a lot of learning: we heard from local agency leaders who recognized HT as a growing problem with a significant gap of awareness that existed in Alamance County at the time. We compiled data on North Carolina arrests and investigations, talked to stakeholders, and met with people doing the direct service work. It was at this time we connected with NCCASA and other state-wide organizations that provided support and collaborative learning environments. We took what we learned in these spaces and began training agency staff and community organizations to recognize and respond to human trafficking.
The nature of direct services and crisis protocols requires a multidisciplinary approach, so we began the work among the county victim service providers. We were given office space at our rape crisis and child advocacy center, and a second office at the Family Justice Center, where we worked closely with the domestic violence program. We sat on three separate review teams with these programs, cross-trained agency staff and volunteers, and created protocols and referral networks. A grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission funded a victim assistance program that provided direct services to HT survivors.
My work from this time included developing all programmatic materials for crisis response and victim assistance, training, and mentoring at-risk youth. I convened community dialogues, served as a conference speaker and panelist, and joined other voices in the anti-HT movement in North Carolina, collaborating with UNC-SSW, HTC, NCCASA , and NCCAHT on projects that brought to light the unique challenges and barriers to services of trafficked survivors.
The longer I did this work, the more I saw how systemic racism and oppression impacted survivors and their access to services and assistance. It became clear that a stand-alone organization that focused only on HT intervention and awareness wasn’t the best use of resources. A stand alone organization was also unequipped to get to the root of the problem. Joining with a rape crisis program, whose foundational work is addressing sexual violence through an anti-oppression lens, more clearly aligned with our original vision to end human trafficking.
So in 2018, to achieve collective impact, Alamance For Freedom as a human trafficking program was added to CrossRoads’ existing rape crisis and child advocacy programs, enabling clients and their families had easier access to services across the three programs. At this time I co-authored a manual with Christy Croft, who was then the Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist with NCCASA, entitled Expanding Our Reach: Equipping North Carolina’s Rape Crisis Centers to Serve Survivors of Human Trafficking. The month I began my new position at NCCASA, we jumped into a series of webinars that covered different sections of the manual. With this idea of collective impact in mind, the project was intended to build capacity with existing rape crisis programs to do human trafficking advocacy work.
Moving into 2020, I am excited to continue this project, hosting webinars and in-person trainings. I am proud that NCCASA has been, and continues to be, at the forefront of the anti-human trafficking movement in North Carolina. I am also excited to build on my current expertise of human trafficking advocacy and technical assistance, so that I can bring that expertise to local programs and community partners.
It is my wish that you all enjoy a wonderful new year, and I look forward to working with you in 2020!
Courtney Dunkerton is NCCASA’s new Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist. Sign up for her upcoming webinar on ” Expanding Our Reach: Building a Multidisciplinary Response in Human Trafficking” here.