5 Messages to Share for National Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Wichita State University Center for Combating Human Trafficking

Today’s post is written by Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm and Bailey Patton Brackin, LMSW from the Wichita State University’s Center for Combating Human Trafficking (CCHT). CCHT provides education, training, consultation, research, and public policy services to build the capacity for effective anti-trafficking prevention, intervention, and aftercare responses.

Nationally, January is known as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. As with most concentrated awareness efforts, this time of year usually results in sudden rise of increased attention from the media, concerned citizens, political officials, and others in the community. While it would be easy for those of us engaged in anti-trafficking work day-to-day to minimize or disengage from this month (after all, every day is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month for us), ignoring the significance of this month is a great disservice to the movement as a whole, as well as the individuals who are victimized by this form of violence. Our country needs to hear from those of us engaged daily in the realities of this work, not to mention, from those of us who are survivors, thrivers, and overcomers. January is the perfect opportunity for us to not just educate the broader public, but to engage them in an intentional manner. After all, if we don’t stand up and lead the conversation, someone else will. And at the end of the day, awareness without purposeful action can cause great harm. At the WSU Center for Combating Human Trafficking (CCHT), we believe that with the right mindset and a little planning, we can harness the increased attention and interest created by Human Trafficking Awareness Month to truly make a difference in the lives of survivors. This happens when we focus our time, energy, and resources on sharing messages that matter in creative ways. Specifically, we believe that there are 5 messages you can share this January to make a difference in your community:  

  1. Victim-Centered, Survivor-Led Anti-Trafficking Work is Critical. Far too often in the anti-trafficking movement, survivors are not given a seat at the table. By failing to meaningfully engage survivors in this work, we shut out the true experts. We must rise, unite, support, and elevate the voices of survivors beyond sharing the details of their exploitation. We must honor the lived experience of survivors and overcomers and engage them in meaningful ways. Consider:
  • Engaging survivors in your planning for January.
  • Using social media, blogs, trainings, and other strategies to educate your community on victim-centered, survivor-led practices.
  • Highlighting programs that are victim-centered, survivor-led.
  • Offering a platform that elevates the successes or work of survivors.

A few ways we demonstrate the importance of this message at CCHT is by:

  • Ensuring that survivor-overcomers are a part of our staff team;
  • Implementing victim-centered/survivor-led services at our own agency as well as training other organizations on how to do the same;
  • Inviting survivors to share and sell their work at our annual conference at no charge.
  1. The Criminalization of Victims is Harmful. Many of the laws implemented in our country over the last 10 years have had unintended, negative consequences. All over the United States, there have been more and more cases of survivors being charged with crimes that occurred as a direct result of their exploitation. Instead of receiving much needed support, survivors are often treated as criminals. This criminalization continues to occur because most remain uneducated about the realities of trafficking and the intense trauma victims experience while being exploited. We must do all we can to offer justice and hope. Consider:
    • Addressing the myths about human trafficking through social media, blogs, and other media in order to help people understand what this form of abuse and exploitation really looks like.
    • Talking about safe harbor laws, no wrong door approaches, and expungement in order to improve system responses and ensure that survivors are offered the resources and support needed to overcome past exploitation.
    • Hosting training for multidisciplinary professionals in your community and talk about the importance of treating survivors as victims, rather than criminals.

One of the ways we have highlighted this message at CCHT is by hosting legislative hearings where we discuss the number of juveniles detained for offenses related to their victimization, as well as the harmful effects of criminalization.

  1. Anti-Trafficking Responses Must be Relational, Individualized, and Holistic. Overall, there is far too great of emphasis placed on the “rescue” of trafficking victims with very little thought as to what happens next. The road out of exploitation is long and difficult. Growth, progress, and healing take time, and backsliding often occurs. Ultimately, survivors need to be connected to services that will address needs in every dimension of their life (housing, education, job skills, money management, mental health, emotional health, and physical health). This is at the heart of the LotusTM Anti-Trafficking Model and why we speak, teach, and train on this holistic approach. Consider:
  • Challenging people to look beyond the rescue.
  • Talking about program needs.
  • Talking about program successes.

This message is paramount to the work we do every day. CCHT, in partnership with our friends at MANY, promote methods of effective anti-trafficking responses all year long by offering training and technical assistance that is rooted in research and applicable to direct-practice.

  1. Mentoring for Human Trafficking Survivors Makes a Difference! At the end of the day, services don’t change people, relationships change people. Often times, survivors of trafficking have had negative experiences with relationships. They may have been let down, ignored, or even exploited by those closest to them. The mentoring relationship can be restorative, offering opportunities for growth and healing. Consider:
  • Highlighting the successes of your mentorship program.
  • Using January to recruit new mentors and mentees. January is also National Mentoring Month!
  • If you aren’t already using a mentor model, connect with mentoring programs in your area to talk about partnership.

As you work to develop your mentoring programs, please feel free to reach out to us at the CCHT, MANY or to our friends at the National Mentoring Resource Center.

  1. Everyone Has a Role to Play in the Anti-Trafficking Movement. While each of us have different gifts and abilities, we are all needed in this work. We cannot do it alone or by operating in our own distinct silos. We must engage and rely on our partners, volunteers, and supporters. Ultimately, it is survivors who suffer when we are territorial or ego-driven. Consider:
  • Hosting an event that highlights various partners in the community.
  • Educating your community on current efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking, as well as resources that exist for survivors.
  • Clearly highlighting volunteer opportunities and engaging those who have an interest in doing more.

At the CCHT, we rely on the efforts of our partners, allies, and ambassadors to assist in furthering the paradigm shift regarding commercial sexual exploitation. Additionally, it is together that we work to create a web of services that wrap around a survivor as they journey to achieving sustainable holistic health and prosperity.

Remember, your engagement in National Human Trafficking Awareness Month is a process. Start small with social media and focus on the messages that resonate most with your agency or community, or, consider partnering on an event. You can add to your programming each year as you figure out what works for your agency. Please don’t miss an opportunity to engage your community in a meaningful way this January.

Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm is a licensed master social work and a doctor of psychology with more than two decades of personal, professional practice, and community-based research expertise in the anti-trafficking movement. With various first-hand vantage points, and operating from a strengths-based and social justice perspective, she has served locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally as a street outreach worker, direct-service program coordinator, therapist, community response organizer, human rights advocate, researcher, educator, and public policy developer. Dr. Countryman-Roswurm serves as the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Wichita State University. Bailey Patton Brackin is a licensed master social worker. For the last five years she has been engaged in anti-trafficking work in various capacities including: direct service, training, research, and advocacy. She currently works as the Assistant Director for the Wichita State University Center for Combating Human Trafficking. To learn more about the services of Center for Combating Human Trafficking visit http://combatinghumantrafficking.org.