Local Solutions to a Global Problem: Supporting Communities in the Fight Against Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is a global phenomenon to which no country is immune. Victims of modern slavery are exploited in every region of the world, compelled into service for labor or commercial sex in the real world of industry and on the pages of the internet. The enormity of the problem necessitates the development of a unified, comprehensive response from world leaders to collectively address a crime that defies all borders.
Despite its global reach, human trafficking takes place locally—in a favorite nail salon or restaurant; in a neighborhood home or popular hotel; on a city street or rural farm. Local communities face the realities and consequences of modern slavery, including weakened rule of law, strained public health systems, and decreased economic development, while traffickers profit from the exploitation of others.
International recognition of the devastating effects of human trafficking grows each year. As of the date of this report, governments of more than 170 countries have made public commitments to its eradication, promising punishment for traffickers, care for victims, and action to prevent this crime. The importance of these commitments cannot be overstated.
Yet, the grinding reality of fighting modern slavery takes place not on world stages but through the dedicated actions of individuals to meaningfully implement such commitments—in the slow and often tedious process of building a strong case against a trafficker; the long-term and case-specific provision of comprehensive care for victims; the consistent efforts of civil society partners to strategically raise awareness about human trafficking; and the development of well-planned and evidence-driven preventive policies.
National governments cannot do these things alone. Their commitments to this issue are more effectively realized in partnership with the communities that face it, including local authorities, NGOs and advocates, and individual community members who are often the eyes, ears, and hearts of the places they call home. After all, traffickers exploit the political, social, economic, and cultural contours of local communities, often in ways that would be hard to address fully from a distance. By supporting and empowering these communities, national governments can truly begin to address the individual trafficking cases that collectively make up the larger global issue.
This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report highlights some of the elements of an effective community-based approach, the challenges in implementing such initiatives, and the opportunities national governments have to facilitate coordination, cooperation, and responsibility-sharing with and between local governments and communities.
Using the Local Context to Build the Bigger Picture
The nature of human trafficking—multifaceted, complex, and clandestine—poses significant challenges for the development of effective anti-trafficking policies. The root causes of the crime are deeper than any one of its facets and relate to larger systemic conditions such as poverty, forced migration, racism, and discrimination, among many others. Understanding human trafficking in its local context is critical to developing a meaningful response.
Traffickers, perhaps instinctively, know this well. Although human trafficking is often associated with organized crime, and in some cases is facilitated by sophisticated criminal syndicates, in many others it is driven by loose networks, families, or individuals operating independently. Using their first-hand knowledge of local systems, behaviors, social structures, and individual interactions, traffickers exploit vulnerabilities, often betraying the trust of their communities.
Traffickers may, for example, prey on the hopes and dreams of parents searching for a way to give their children access to a good education; recognize a vulnerable community’s fear of engaging law enforcement officials with a reputation for corruption; or rely on bias and discrimination to keep victims hidden in plain sight. Because of this, the dynamics that facilitate human trafficking will be unique in almost every instance and each jurisdiction will face its own challenges related to culture, environment, resources, and knowledge.
National governments have an opportunity to build stronger, more tailored anti-trafficking strategies through close coordination with sub-national governments and communities, including civil society organizations, survivors, and others working on the ground. Without shifting their responsibility, national governments can enable local authorities to take action to assess the needs of their communities and develop responses that build on existing capacity, capitalize on the expertise of a wide range of actors, and identify and distribute underutilized resources.
Addressing human trafficking requires a dynamic policy framework based on the mutually reinforcing pillars of prosecution, protection, prevention, and partnership. Combining international and national resources with local knowledge and energy can help all stakeholders create a more comprehensive and focused strategy with a broader reach. National governments should do all they can to pave the way for efforts on the ground, starting with robust anti-trafficking laws that criminalize all forms of human trafficking, tangible support for victim protection, and robust coordination with and resources for the various stakeholders required to combat and prevent this crime.
The following pages seek to encourage individuals and communities to be proactive in addressing human trafficking, while also highlighting several important activities national governments can take to support local efforts. These lists are not exhaustive—there is always more a government can do.
Building Partnerships and Creating Cooperation
In the fight against human trafficking, multi-stakeholder partnerships are critical. They must exist vertically between national, regional, and local governments, and horizontally between law enforcement, service providers, and other key actors within and across communities.
At every level, inherent limitations and lack of resources necessitate creativity, collaboration, and help from key partners to develop protocols and processes that punish offenders while caring for victims. Law enforcement, for example, can arrest and prosecute traffickers, but cannot do so well without working in tandem with care providers who offer comprehensive support services to victims. Governments rely on the public to report suspicious activities, and therefore are well-served by providing education and resources to help the public understand indicators of human trafficking. Victims need the support of a variety of actors, while anti-trafficking stakeholders benefit from the input and advice of survivors. Local leaders are well-situated to understand the needs of their communities and how best to implement and adapt national policies to the local level, but necessarily rely on their national governments for funding, expertise, and training.
Thus, to address and prevent human trafficking and care for victims effectively, the expertise, resources, and time of a wide range of stakeholders are necessary. This includes both government and nongovernment entities, each with distinct mandates and roles, which may create competing priorities and conflicting interests that are challenging to coordinate. Building and strengthening a collaborative approach across multidisciplinary perspectives can help communities foster trust between relevant actors and develop systems to provide comprehensive care to victims and robust law enforcement action against traffickers.
Importantly, effective responses to human trafficking require involvement of survivors as key stakeholders. Survivors should be included in the discussion, development, and implementation of anti-trafficking policies or protocols and not be asked to relate—and thereby re-live—the stories of the exploitation they experienced. According to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, “[s]urvivors play uniquely important roles in combating human trafficking in the U.S. and around the world. As subject matter experts, they provide essential tools that investigators, prosecutors, and communities need to combat and prevent human trafficking.” Thus, wherever possible, survivors should be included in community groups dedicated to combating human trafficking and should be compensated for their expertise and time.
Task forces are an effective means of anti-trafficking coordination, as they facilitate partnerships between local law enforcement agencies, service providers, and sub-national and national regulatory authorities.
For example, in 2017 the Governor of Edo State in Nigeria declared human trafficking to be one of his top priorities and created the Edo State Task Force to combat trafficking in persons. It is made up of participants from NGOs, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Nigeria Immigration Services, Benin City Police Commissioner, Edo State Director of State Security Services, IOM Nigeria, and Edo State government executives, including the Attorney General, the Commissioner for Youth, and the Commissioner for Local Governments, among many others. The task force has arrested at least 10 potential traffickers and provided shelter and services to Nigerian victims repatriated from Libya, among other activities.
In Nepal, the National Committee for Controlling Human Trafficking (NCCHT) oversees nationwide efforts, with support from both district- and local- level committees. The NCCHT routinely meets with and trains members of the 75 district-level committees funded by the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare to support awareness campaigns, meeting expenses, emergency victim services, and the local committees. Furthermore, they collaborate to implement and report on efforts in line with the government’s 2012-2022 national action plan. As of January 2018, there were 732 local committees in operation, overseeing local efforts and identifying and screening for trafficking within their communities. For example, in April 2017, the vigilance team of the local committee in Maadi Municipality, Chitwan District intercepted at the Indian border a 17-year-old girl who had been recruited with promises of education. The vigilance team then reunited the girl with her family, and she is now continuing her education in Nepal. The local committee filed a case against the trafficker at the Chitwan District Court, which sentenced the trafficker to 10 years imprisonment.
In the city of Houston in the United States, the Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking has doubled in size since its formation in 2012 and includes 42 member organizations that are direct service providers, prevention and advocacy groups, law enforcement agencies, and private funders. The task force is organized into four sub-groups, each focusing on one of the “3Ps”—prosecution, protection, and prevention—and a fourth P for partnerships. The task force is helping to implement the city’s 91-point strategic plan to combat human trafficking.
In the most basic sense, a task force creates a setting for information-sharing on the roles and resources of anti-trafficking stakeholders in the community. It is also a place to share knowledge about human trafficking from different perspectives so that all participants have a similar baseline understanding of its many forms, as well as of the elements that make certain populations vulnerable to the crime. As the task force matures, it can be a place where participants decide how best to approach the variety of trafficking cases that may arise, whether they involve forced labor or sex trafficking, minors or adults, or foreign nationals or citizens, among other factors.
An inclusive task force can be a unified voice that signals to the community the prioritization of human trafficking and can be a starting point for gathering and consolidating information about local instances of human trafficking and current resources for victims. The purpose of such a group is to create a consistent and coordinated response to human trafficking that is tailored to the community, protects the rights of victims, and holds perpetrators accountable. Moreover, a task force can serve as an effective communication channel between sub- and national-level authorities, providing the foundation for targeted and effective national efforts and an accurate understanding of community needs.
To facilitate coordination, national governments can:
Encourage and support the establishment of human trafficking task forces in communities to bring together law enforcement, care providers, and others, and enhance access to human trafficking experts.
Provide access to experts to help build local capacity and allocate resources, whether financial or in-kind, over a sustained period and in response to local needs to support local efforts across the “3Ps.” - Encourage the sharing of successes and challenges across jurisdictions and ensure budget and policy processes incentivize adaptation rather than the status quo.
Empower and encourage sub-national authorities to collaborate with NGOs to develop policies and protocols, as well as formal structures like human trafficking task forces.
Where national committees or standing NGO working groups exist, engage a broad array of stakeholders in national anti-trafficking efforts.
Conducting Assessments to Understand the Problem
Communities interested in starting or improving on efforts to confront human trafficking may benefit first from assessing the problem. For example, communities may find value in gaining a better understanding of potentially vulnerable communities, the range of services victims may need, and the current resources available to address those needs. Likewise, assessing the general level of understanding on trafficking-related issues by those likely to come into contact with victims, and the processes in place for victim care and law enforcement action can help set a baseline from which to drive continuous improvement.
In Haiti, a prominent NGO has developed a holistic model for community-based action to end the traditional practice of restavèk, a system in which poorer, often rural, parents send their children to live and work in the homes of urban families in exchange for room, board, and access to education—a practice that often leads to domestic servitude. The NGO conducted participatory research on the scale of the problem in selected areas and on the underlying socioeconomic factors that allow this type of human trafficking to flourish. Using this information, each community developed a community action plan to prevent _restavèk _and protect the children who may fall victim to it. The NGO also facilitated the creation of the network of adult survivors that has become a powerful mechanism both to raise awareness about human trafficking and to advocate for the involvement of survivors in decisions at the national, regional, and community levels.
In response to concerns about the condition of homeless children forced to beg, the Ministry of Justice in Georgia issued more than $20,000 to two NGOs with the goal of identifying and supporting the reintegration of “street children.” The NGOs identified 105 children living on the streets, learning they were mostly Georgian, Azeri, and Moldovan nationals. The research identified economic hardship, limited education, and “cultural matters” as factors making children more likely to be forced into begging activities, such as selling trinkets, begging for spare change, or engaging in physical work like the transportation of goods. Based on this research and pursuant to recommendations by the NGOs that conducted it, the Ministry of Justice awarded an additional $10,000 for an awareness-raising campaign. In addition, the Social Services Agency is responding to the NGOs' recommendations by expanding its facilities in Batumi, which the research identified as a hotbed for “street children” activity during the summer months.
The input of experts who work directly with human trafficking victims is vital to a comprehensive assessment, but members of the broader community may also be able to provide valuable insight. Their understanding of the particular dynamics that may lead to trafficking and their ideas for combating it locally should be included in any discussion.
By gaining a better understanding of the current landscape of victim identification, service provision, and law enforcement action, communities can begin to build formalized processes that can help to ensure victims receive a full range of support services.
To assist with information-gathering, national governments can:
Conduct assessments to understand trafficking at the national level and both encourage and support monitoring and routine reporting from local level stakeholders.
Develop national and local diagnostic tools to help with the identification of at-risk populations.
Support anti-trafficking efforts for populations that may fall outside of traditional national jurisdictions, such as tribal communities, migrants and refugees, and itinerant populations.
Provide a national platform for information-sharing and data collection.
Fund studies to better understand successful anti-trafficking community models.