The truth is that there are real victims of human trafficking in our Inland Northwest Community, in the United States, and around the world. What that trafficking looks and feels like is different for each individual survivor and of course their loved ones. It’s not hype, it’s not a movie, it’s not black and white. It’s complicated.
To truly address human trafficking, we’re called to confront our attitudes, beliefs and biases about race, sex, culture, labor, sex work, addiction, the criminal legal system, child welfare, fair trade goods, the juvenile justice system and our own grocery lists.
It’s an issue that’s easily sensationalized. We’re made to believe there’s a clear “bad guy,” and that victims are kidnapped and sold into an underground network of violence and sex, locked away and unable to escape. While there may be incidents like this, the truth is typically more complex. On behalf of the clients we serve and my teammates at LCS Northwest who do the long, difficult work of walking with survivors through the healing and justice process, I ask you to look deeper.
The victim may not even identify as a victim at all. Maybe they want out of their situation, maybe they don’t. Maybe they have somewhere safe and loving to return to, maybe the situation they’re in is better for them than the one they left. I can’t say for certain, because each person is unique and has their own set of life circumstances that may or may not have contributed to being victimized. You can imagine how these factors make it difficult to have valid data on the prevalence of human trafficking.
It would be easy for me to point you to a clear solution: Give us money and we’ll rescue innocent children from adults who are selling them or working them for money the victim and their family will never see.
I don’t have that privilege, because I know that real help for a complex problem requires a complex solution. As a result, LCS gathers with leaders in the field from around the state to develop legislative tools for prosecuting offenders and helping victims find healing and justice, on their own terms, with help that is accessible and affirming to them (not help that asks them to switch to my way of thinking/feeling/living). LCS offers help from a Washington State Certified Victim Advocate for free – partnerships for safe housing; relationships with investigators and prosecutors who meet regularly at the Human Trafficking Task Force we convene; behavioral health providers who work through trauma bonds, addiction, painful memories and more; foster homes for youth trafficked in their home countries; guidance through criminal proceedings; help with trafficking visas; guidance at finding a safe way to earn money; clothes and hygiene products; planning for safety should they still live in the community where they were trafficked – all led by the goals the victim has for themselves (not mine). Yes, this too requires donations of time, talent and treasures. It requires long, difficult conversations with survivors, their families, and the many people who will impact them as they move through their process of healing and justice. It’s hard work. There’s no one clear and bright solution that fixes everything.
Victims are real people – not some story to be told, not a statistic, not a scared straight tale. You show people the most respect when you offer them the space to regain the power they’ve lost due to victimization by making their own decisions.
Human trafficking discussions often neglect labor trafficking, wage theft and unsafe working conditions for people in our community and around the world.
Actions to take to stop and prevent human trafficking include the following:
1, Believe survivors;
2, Buy fair trade goods and foods;
3, Foster an unaccompanied refugee minor who was trafficked;
4, Fact check before you post to social media;
5, Ask hard questions, and support organizations like LCS Northwest that are getting their hands dirty and doing the hard work to help victims in the way that is most empowering.
Erin Williams Hueter is district director of Lutheran Community Services Northwest.