(The following is an excerpt from my book, The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking & modern slavery (2016). Beginning on January 11th, every other day I’ll be posting excerpts from my book to help readers learn more about this issue during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The Essential Abolitionist answers the most often-asked questions about human trafficking, and the response to modern slavery.)
Determining the current response efforts in your community can be easy or difficult, but is the first step for an abolitionist interested in getting involved.
If you are lucky, a quick Internet search for human trafficking task force (or coalition), human trafficking events, or human trafficking victim assistance along with the name of your city or community will return websites for local organizations involved in the response. Contact them and ask to speak with the person involved in anti-trafficking work. Often, in multisector teams, this person works under the title coordinator. If you find an organization involved in anti-trafficking efforts they should be able to connect you with others including the local task force or coalition if one exists. Ask them what response activities are in place and how you can get involved.
For clarification, though multisector team members work closely with one another, most of the time they do not physically share the same office. Typically, team members operate from the office of their organization, and the members come together at monthly or quarterly meetings. But as anti-trafficking efforts grow, more task forces strive for the best practice of co-location, in which local and federal law enforcement officers, a trafficking victim advocate, and the task force coordinator share office space for ease of communication and coordination.
In addition to searching for local anti-trafficking organizations, connect with other members of the community. For example, if you know a local police officer or deputy, ask what they know about their agency’s response to trafficking. Attending public events focusing on human trafficking and related topics is an excellent way to become involved. These events usually highlight the work of local organizations. After attending several of these events, a clear picture of the current response efforts should emerge.
Contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (888-373-7888) and ask if they know of organizations in your area. FBOs (faith-based organizations) are also good resources for learning about local efforts.
If you cannot find any anti-trafficking efforts in your community, start one yourself! If current data doesn’t exist in your community, perform an assessment. Contact all of the agencies, NGOs, and FBOs you can find and ask them whether they have served or assisted victims of trafficking. Collect as much data as you can (without asking for any personal information about the victims) with the promise to share your findings with every organization, local law enforcement, and the press. This is a great way to initiate a community response to trafficking. You can also contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center for data on incidents they have collected and information on trafficking laws within your state.
If you cannot find local events, organize a day- or weekend-long conference. This is the best way to bring together and highlight the efforts of local organizations, which may be too busy to plan and coordinate an event.
A common error made by passionate abolitionists is launching efforts without taking the time to learn what is already in place, possibly duplicating efforts, or more likely, launching an effort before the need exists. For example, many people wish to aid victims of trafficking by opening a shelter. But for a shelter to succeed, there must be identified victims, and the agencies identifying the victims must know about the shelter and be confident in the shelter staff’s background, expertise, and reliability. Forming the partnerships required to create a shelter takes incredible effort. In addition, the facility and shelter staff may have to meet certain state regulations and criteria before opening. Do the research before embarking on any endeavor, however well-intended.
In all cases, abolitionists should continue to study trafficking and response practices both within the United States and internationally; there is always more to learn, and a great idea in one location may work just as well in another.
Where some people find frustration in the lack of anti-trafficking efforts, others see opportunity. One of the most exciting aspects of the anti-trafficking movement is the field is wide open to new ideas and efforts. Many creative and passionate abolitionists have launched collaborative efforts in their hometown or on the other side of the world. Many have created new ways of fighting slavery. Find your passion, align it with your skills, and make something happen!