In Three States, a Boost for Anti-Trafficking Initiatives

Happy diverse young people.Community efforts to prevent human trafficking in three states have gotten a boost from a new Family & Youth Services Bureau initiative launched this past fall.

FYSB awarded 2-year grants to three demonstration projects focused on victims trafficked within the United States. To ensure victims get the high level of services they need, the projects—in Arizona, New York, and Utah—are working with a range of collaborators, from other social service providers to medical professionals to lawyers to universities.

Setting up Standards, Building a Network

The Arizona Partnership to End Domestic Trafficking, led by Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix, is building networks throughout the state, training providers on the unique needs of trafficking survivors, and expanding the availability of tailored case management for survivors. The partnership plans to host an annual anti-trafficking symposium to educate and train people.

The grant is enabling partnership members to accomplish things they couldn’t before, says Tumbleweed CEO Cynthia Shuler, including offering case management services tailored to the specific needs of trafficking survivors.

“Part of what we’re going to try to do is figure out standards for case management for folks who are working with the trafficked population,” she says.

Building a network of people in Arizona dedicated to combatting trafficking is another priority, Schuler says.

“We’re going to have a symposium each year – that is something we clearly could not have done without the money – where we will educate and train folks including some special sessions where people walk out with the tools to begin to address this population,” she says. “Although people want to take the time to sit down and really work together, this [demonstration project] is having us do it in a very deliberate manner. And that’s a good thing.”

Victim-Centered Approach

New York’s Edwin Gould Services for Children and Families is also focusing heavily on training. They’re scheduling outreach and workshops focusing on foster care agencies, the city Administration for Children’s Services, schools, shelters, and youth facilities. And they’ve developed a working group of agencies with expertise in providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services to New York’s diverse groups.

“New York is one of the major entry points for a lot of trafficking activity in the U.S.,” Jesenia Santana, Edwin Gould’s manager of advocacy services and senior policy advisor. “The numbers indicate how much it happens. Society needs to reframe the faulty narrative of who individuals charged with prostitution are and instead, enhance support and services available to them.”

An important part of that shift toward a victim-centered approach is taking into account the very traumatic nature of trafficking, Santana says. 

“We need to be enhancing trauma-informed practice in the service of trafficking survivors,” she says. “Supply them with the legal help they need, the housing assistance they need if an arrest endangers their housing. … Their bodies have been commodified, so we need to look at how to support them in reconnecting with it.”

Raising Capacity and Awareness

The Asian Association of Utah’s Refugee and Immigrant Center in Salt Lake City calls its project Collaborative Responses to Empower Survivors of Trafficking, or CREST. CREST will build and enhance other organizations’ abilities to serve victims of sex and labor trafficking in Utah. CREST will also provide direct case management and support to victims.

“The biggest thing is to meet the victim where they are and not push your own goals or program objective onto a person if they’re not ready,” says Elizabeth Hendrix, director of trafficking in persons for the Refugee and Immigrant Center. “You ask the question, ‘What happened to you?’ and understand what their needs are and what they perceive their needs to be. We look for ways to be supportive even if it’s a little different than [what] we usually do. If there’s a culturally specific way someone feels they need to go through a healing process, we do that. To us, it means orienting the services around the victim, rather than the other way around."

That will be especially important as CREST attempts to reach victims outside urban centers, she says.

“One challenge we’ve seen is that as we reach into rural areas, there is not much awareness of sex or labor trafficking,” she says. “People just don’t know to be looking for it particularly outside of Salt Lake City, so I think the learning curve for us across the state is going to be a challenge.”

Learn more about FYSB’s Services for Domestic Victims of Human Trafficking and the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States.

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