At Love146, we often encounter individuals who are deeply moved by the issue of child trafficking and are eager to volunteer. However, some people feel deflated when they hear that educating yourself and your community are often the recommended first steps. So let’s talk about it!
We want to provide you with some perspective on why we say this – and guidance on how you can impact the issue in a more personal and tangible way.
Firstly, it’s important to say candidly that many of the organizations that have been around as long as Love146 (over 20 years!) have learned from years of experiences (and mistakes!) — that education and funding are two of the most crucial roles people who are not in the field can take in combating trafficking. Simply put: When we say start with education and funding, we’re giving this answer for a reason. By raising awareness and supporting organizations financially, you can invest in preventing trafficking from happening in the first place and support comprehensive solutions for survivors.
Education is Truly So Important Right Now
We hear people sometimes say, “I already know about trafficking. People I meet already know, and so awareness isn’t missing.” However, many people still have distorted and skewed perceptions of human trafficking, in part, because it is often sensationalized on film and in the media. Ensuring that people have accurate and helpful information about trafficking is, unfortunately, an ongoing battle for the field. To be effective, the anti-trafficking field needs to maintain credibility, and people in communities need to be equipped to understand trafficking beyond stereotypes, partisan rhetoric, and conspiracies. If people have distorted information about who is at risk, what trafficking looks like, and how to best help victims, then they will miss opportunities to prevent and support the children who truly do need our help. The focus needs to be about helping victims. You can be part of clearing up myths, and promoting truths about what trafficking looks like so that folks in your community can actually help those at risk.
Start Within Your Own Community
Likely the greatest impact you can make is in your own community. Most children are trafficked because they are vulnerable. You can start by focusing on the risk factors and protective factors associated with trafficking and thinking about how you can make a difference. Look especially at this page on our site. (We also have a poster on this page that you can download, print, and hang in your community.)
Trafficking is almost never the first thing to go wrong in a child’s life. For example, supporting children who have experienced abuse and neglect can be a significant contribution to reducing risk for trafficking victimization. We’ve served hundreds of youth in the US, and almost 90% of children in our US Survivor Care had some involvement with the child welfare system prior to being trafficked. If housing is something you’re open to providing, then please consider becoming a foster parent. If you get involved in foster care for long enough, trust us, you’ll be able to help prevent trafficking — and if you’re willing to foster teens, you may likely support victims. Foster parents can play a critical role in safeguarding children from trafficking in that they can serve as an important resource and protective factor. They can also serve as an important support and advocate for children who have experienced trafficking victimization and are placed in their care. If fostering isn’t a good fit for you or your family, then mentoring programs, particularly in under-resourced communities, can provide valuable support and help make vulnerable individuals less susceptible to exploitation. Look into after school programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brother/Big Sister, or other similar groups. Being a safe, supportive adult in a child’s life can do a lot to reduce their vulnerability.
Become a Resource & Advocate
You can also start by becoming a resource for the kids you already know in the community. By understanding what trafficking looks like and educating yourself on the issue, you can help young people who trust you as they encounter dangerous situations. But don’t just stop there, educate yourself on related issues as well like internet safety, healthy relationships, depression/anxiety/suicide, poverty alleviation, etc. Being available to listen, provide assistance, and connect children with appropriate help and resources can make a profound impact. Additionally, familiarize yourself with local resources, service providers, and care and help lines that you can share with youth so that they know there is always someplace they can turn to and someone they can reach out to. It’s important that children know they are never alone. Even if they don’t feel comfortable discussing things with you or their other friends or family members, there are always other people and resources they can turn to. The important thing is to let children know about the safe resources and supports that exist in their community before they need them.
Certain things are for Professionals
If you’re specifically more interested in working directly with trafficking in a hands-on way, pursuing professional credentials in relevant fields is a great step – like Social Work or Forensics. Working directly with survivors requires professional credentials, training, oversight, and accountability. In order to perform these roles effectively, the job must be properly funded and staffed by trained professionals.
Organizations that allow volunteers to engage in such activities, especially without extensive prior training, may not have the necessary protocols and safeguards in place. Remember that these youth have often been through significant trauma, and having people come in and out of their lives can be harmful. There are also ethical issues to consider as well as issues related to confidentiality and liability. In addition, the impact of secondary trauma on people working with this population is real (that’s the trauma you can have by being exposed to others’ traumatic stories). Secondary trauma is something our staff regularly encounter and our HR department has spent considerable time developing extensive practices, policies, and procedures to help mitigate the negative impact.
Investing in professionals through donations and fundraising, while it may not seem tangible, is truly important. Oftentimes anti-trafficking organizations are funded through grants or contracts that only cover certain costs. Most organizations, including Love146, rely on the generous donations of our supporters to implement our holistic services in the way that we know survivors need and deserve. Deciding to become a monthly donor allows organizations like Love146 to plan for the future and invest in additional programming, knowing that we can rely on your support. Love146 is able to tell the youth we serve that we never close a case because people like you show up and tell us that you will walk alongside us as we continue to serve these youth.
Don’t Give up!
We understand the desire to help and the yearning to do more. Many of us who work in the field have these same feelings. That said, we know that outside of our work, the best way that we, and you, can combat trafficking is to invest in kids, invest in their communities, work to reduce the risk factors and increase the protective factors discussed above. This may not sound as exciting as sitting face to face with a child who has experienced trafficking, but it is what is truly needed and it is what will have the greatest impact. Whatever you choose to do, don’t give up on finding the right way for you to make an impact.
We hope these suggestions provide you with a clearer path to pursue your passion and make the kind of meaningful difference you are looking to make in the anti-trafficking movement. We appreciate your dedication and commitment to the cause. Together, we can continue to work towards a world free from trafficking and exploitation.