Your agency is likely already serving survivors of human trafficking. They call your hotlines. They seek your sexual assault crisis services and ask for support around domestic violence safety planning.
Developing policy and protocols about trafficking services is less about expanding existing services to include a new population, and more about building capacity to intentionally serve the needs of survivors of human trafficking.
The “Empowerment Model”
The Empowerment Model keeps survivor choice at the forefront. As much as possible, allow survivors to make important decisions about their own care, to include law enforcement involvement, treatment plans, and prioritizing needs and goals. When survivor choice is not possible due to mandatory reporting or emergent medical or safety issues, take time to explain what will happen.
The force, fraud, or coercion of human trafficking represses a survivor’s ability to make their own choices. Thoughtful, empowerment-focused care helps survivors learn how to discern and prioritize needs.
Why Survivors Might Stay
There are many reasons a survivor may not be ready, willing, or able to leave their trafficking situation even when offered an out. Some of these reasons may include:
Feeling shame and guilt. Survivors often feel ashamed of what they have been forced to do. This may take time to process through.
Having a relationship with their trafficker, who may be a family member, caregiver, co-parent, or romantic interest.
Threats or fear of violence or harm to self or others (including their children) if they exit.
Dependency related to a substance use disorder.
Fears of deportation of themselves or loved ones, and different communities’ complicated relationships with the criminal justice system.
Incorporate harm reduction principles when appropriate. If your agency provides compassionate, empowerment-based, nonjudgmental services, survivors will know you are there for them if and when they are ready to leave.
Trauma-Informed Care for Diverse Populations
If providers fail to consider the timeline of a survivor who has entered into your program, it is easy to become so focused on the trafficking experience that you miss out on the complexity of someone’s entire life. In addition to adverse childhood experiences, a survivor may have experienced lifelong traumas such as poverty or racism, events such as a sexual assault or witnessing a violent assault, or have experienced any number of other traumatic experiences in their life.
Trauma-informed care shifts the focus from trying to learn what is wrong with someone to a deep desire to understand what has happened to them, and how we can support them in ways that feel safe. As you develop program policy, remember that your programs will continue to encounter survivors of non-trafficking-related sexual violence who come from marginalized racial and gender identities, have substance use disorders, or have current or past gang or criminal involvement.
By building capacity to serve these populations, your agency not only will be better prepared to serve survivors of human trafficking, but also will be better prepared to serve all survivors of gender-based violence.