Human Trafficking Awareness Month, held each January, brings attention to labor and sexual exploitation. Communities and organizations hold events such as vigils and conferences, to educate the public, advocate for the rights and needs of survivors, and to hold people who benefit from the exploitation of others accountable. Efforts by advocates, during Human Trafficking Awareness Month and year-round have raised awareness about the existence of these heinous crimes; however, communities and individuals often still struggle to recognize the numerous forms that trafficking can take and the many people who are affected by it every day in their own backyards and around the world.
These crimes have received some heightened attention because of recent stories connected to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, particularly those accounts connected to Jeffrey Epstein and NXIVM. Human trafficking affects survivors who have been hidden away and exploited for sex and labor in homes and other private venues, but it also impacts those who are not hidden. In many cases, people are openly exploited in the street, food services, spas and salons, as well as in industries related to agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. Despite the public nature of the exploitation, it goes unnoticed or unrecognized for what it is.
Like other forms of interpersonal violence, such as sexual assault or domestic violence, human trafficking is rooted in oppression. Racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of individual and systemic bias can keep us from recognizing that these issues can and do affect people from different backgrounds and stages of life. Because of stereotypes and assumptions, survivors are not always able to get the help they truly need, and offenders are not held accountable. As a result, it is important for organizers of awareness events to consider ways to be more inclusive in their programming. A few ideas include:
- Recruit a diverse event planning committee for the event.
- Ensure that the locations where the events will be held and the way the information is being shared are accessible. Use microphones and interpreters to ensure that everyone in attendance can receive the information and participate fully.
- Draw attention to the ways trafficking affects people throughout the life span.
- Share information about how traffickers and survivors can be any gender and be sure to use inclusive gender pronouns to refer to victims, survivors, and traffickers.
- Partner with organizations that serve marginalized communities to focus meaningfully on the impact of trafficking within that community.
- Highlight how trafficking in rural communities may present differently than in urban or suburban communities.
- Identify and gather ideas for how to ensure that survivors in your community will be helped, regardless of what language they speak. Provide resources in multiple languages.
This January, make a resolution to provide education and host events that challenge biases and assumptions so that, together, we can remove barriers for survivors and hold traffickers accountable.