At Love146, we’re often asked, “What should I look for as I research various organizations in the field I may want to support?” In order to answer this question, we’ve compiled this list of things you may want to look for in organizations you support – and things you may want to be wary of. These are based on hard lessons we have learned and our 2 decades of experience working in this field. As we keep evolving, we’re committed to listening and as such this list will likely grow and evolve as we too continue to learn.
5 things to look for...
1. Trauma-informed programming and communications
It is hard to see first hand how an organization implements its programming, but one window into their world is through their communication. How do they talk about the people they work with? Many of the people who visit their website will likely also be survivors and people carrying trauma. Do they recognize the strength and resiliency of those they serve? The work that anti-trafficking organizations do is critically important, but organizations should also recognize and honor the work that survivors themselves do in their healing.
2. A team that reflects the population they serve,
including perspectives from survivors. Not every organization will have forward-facing survivors, but a commitment to being survivor informed is important. It’s also critical that staff and leadership (including the board of directors) reflects the demographics of the clients that the organization serves.
3. Research-based, evidence-informed programs
Organizations should be guided by more than their assumptions about what will work. While the field of human trafficking is still relatively young, solutions should leverage the research and evidence-based work of adjacent fields (e.g., domestic violence, bullying, addiction). It’s important that organizations collect and report out data on the work they’re doing – and more established organizations should be building towards evidence-based programming. If you’re not sure if an organization provides research-based, evidence-informed programming, then ask them.
Is this organization respected in the anti-trafficking movement? Do they have a good reputation? If they’re US-based, are they listed on the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s referral directory? If you’re connected with people who work in anti-trafficking, you may want to ask them about an organization’s reputation before you get involved or support them.
5 things to look out for...
Imagery and stories should reflect the reality of trafficking. Things like chains, locked cells, duck tape, rope, and white vans are not often used in cases of human trafficking; therefore, these motifs should not be used - even metaphorically - to communicate about the issue. When an organization is taking exceptions and making them sound like the rule, or using images of historical slavery to depict trafficking, that’s concerning. Leaning on exaggerations or the most extreme stories does harm: not only are they manipulating you — but it leads people to dismiss or minimize how terrible the everyday reality of trafficking is.
2. “Damsel in distress” stories
Is the organization (or are their supporters) being portrayed as a hero, and those impacted by trafficking as voiceless or helpless? Human trafficking is all about abuse of power and using power dynamics to cause harm. So keep power dynamics in mind. Do portrayals of victims, perpetrators, and helpers play into stereotypes in terms of genders, race, nationaliities, etc…? Even words like “rescue,” while commonly used, carry a skewed power dynamic; look to see if that imbalance marks the organization's approach to their work.
3. Conflating all commercial sex with human trafficking
People hold a variety of perspectives about commercial sex, but not everyone involved in commercial sex is being trafficked. People can care about human trafficking and commercial sex at the same time, but confounding these issues is irresponsible, and is often done to push agendas beyond addressing the human rights issue of trafficking. Some organizations use combating human trafficking as their headline language for fundraising, while actually conflating the issue with commercial sex. Terms like “sex trade” or “sold for sex” aren’t necessarily bad, but are cues to look more closely to see if clarity is given.
4. Not being transparent when fundraising for other organizations
Sometimes a group, event, or fundraiser will raise money under a vision of ending trafficking, and distribute the money raised to others who do the work. That’s not uncommon and it’s an okay way to operate. However, in such cases, you should be able to find out easily how much is actually going to fund other organizations' work. Hopefully it’s upfront (e.g., expressed as a percentage); if not, ask or check their financials. Make sure your support is going to the people you want to help. Raising funds but not breaking down where those funds go or what they do is cause for concern – especially when the name of a reputable organization is being used to raise the money.
5. Revealing the identities of clients who are survivors
Going public as a survivor is a big choice. But when a trafficking survivor is currently or has previously received services from an organization, they may feel an obligation to speak publicly in order to “give back,” say thank you, or help others. While there are no clear guidelines regarding having current or former clients provide testimonials, be wary when organizations share a lot of information about clients, especially when they don’t conceal identifying information like names and faces. Survivors have a right to share their stories and experiences, but organizations also have an obligation to raise awareness and fundraise without revealing their client’s identity to the public.