Prevention is vital in the fight against human trafficking. Prevention not only spares children and at-risk adults from ever experiencing exploitation and abuse, it is also a highly effective way to fight trafficking.
The “parable” of The River Babies recounts the story of a woman at the river near her village. Bent over her washing, she stopped when she heard weak, muffled cries and sputtering. She looked up and saw a baby drowning in the river. She immediately threw herself into the water and swam with all her strength to save the baby. With incredible effort, she fought through the eddies and currents and managed to get the baby and herself back to the riverbank to safety. Exhausted but relieved, the woman couldn’t believe her eyes when she looked up and saw two more babies coming down the river, struggling for air. This time she looked around frantically and screamed for help when she saw a man passing by on his horse. He jumped off and they both dove into the river and saved the two babies. But to their horror, just as they delivered the children to safety, they saw several more babies struggling in the water upstream. The man jumped on his horse, galloped into the village and rallied its people to organize the rescue of dozens of babies coming downstream and care for them. As the hours went by, and countless babies were retrieved from the water, a villager suddenly stopped and said, “Let us take a group upstream to find out where these babies are coming from and stop those that are throwing them into the river!”
So it is with the fight against human trafficking. People enduring the abuse and exploitation of traffickers need rescue and restoration today. This work of going into the river and rescuing the children could be categorized as intervention work (The Exodus Road’s primary focus), but we must also look upstream and take action to stem the sources that invite risk and vulnerability that lead to human trafficking. This type of focus in counter-human trafficking could be termed prevention work - and it is vital to systemic change.
While preventing human trafficking remains a deeply complex issue, there are three chief areas of focus, that if invested in, can significantly slow the criminal machine of human trafficking worldwide.
Education Prevents Human Trafficking.
Education is an empowering and essential place to start. Traffickers often lure their victims by offering job opportunities or promising education in a bigger city, or even another country, that never comes to pass. But when legitimate organizations provide stability to families, access to medical care, and education for children, the temptation to leave that support and stability is much lower and families are less likely to fall prey to the lies of traffickers. An estimated 60,000 children in rural northern Thailand are targeted and exploited for sex work every year, but one focused organization, The Freedom Story, provides scholarships so the most at-risk children can attend school, participate in a weekly mentorship program, attend classes at a Resource Center, and learn about their rights. And they are seeing great success. Children living in vulnerable places who graduate from school and go on to become leaders in their communities are reported above ninety percent when they have support from these kinds of organizations versus less than half for those who do not receive such support.
Awareness campaigns over social media and local counter-trafficking events are also vital to educating the global public about the realities and risks of human trafficking. The Exodus Road launches TraffickWatch later this month, an innovative in-person and online training that will educate and equip individuals to engage in the counter-trafficking movement. TraffickWatch is free to online users and will serve as an entry point for people of all ages to understand the realities of human trafficking. The TraffickWatch In-Person Training programs will utilize unique training tailored to specific audiences and will be coming to Colorado soon.
Other awareness and training campaigns from thoughtful organizations go a long way in bringing an understanding of the issue, as well. A few we love are the Not a #Number prevention curriculum in the USA and the My Body Is Mine pilot program in sub-Saharan Africa from Love146, the training and education provided by The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, the Priceless Cube resource tool for indigenous people, and social media campaigns like Human Trafficking Awareness Day and the END IT Movement.
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Breaking the Cycle of Poverty is Critical to Freedom.
A mother struggling to feed her child is willing to take risks in an attempt to meet her child’s needs, even if it might mean sending her own child away with another family member or friend. The promise of freedom from hunger often results in a trafficking situation. Breaking the cycle of poverty eliminates the risks that can lead to trafficking. Organizations and employers that seek to provide stable economic solutions for any struggling community lower the risk of exploitation for that community. Job development, entrepreneurial training programs, micro loans, and job skills-training are strategic investments in prevention.
Another simple but effective way to support human trafficking prevention is to be intentional about where we spend our money. There is power in our purchase and when we buy fairly traded goods, we create positive change in the global economy and lessen the demand for products created by modern slaves. By creating a marketplace for artisans living in vulnerable places and a demand for dignified jobs, at-risk mothers and fathers are able to care for their children, pay school fees, and empower the next generation through a stable home life and opportunities through education.
At The Exodus Road, our online store offers high-quality, ethically-sourced products that support at-risk communities in the countries and regions where our Search + Rescue teams work. Some items are created by artisans who have survived exploitation and trafficking, and others are made by people who are now experiencing a stable home life because they have this work. These items all directly provide sustainable income to people working to overcome poverty, decreasing their vulnerability and risk for exploitation. Shopping at marketplaces that provide direct support for struggling communities is an excellent way to help prevent vulnerability.
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Arrests of Traffickers Prevents More Trafficking.
While the process of working with police to find and free those currently trapped in slavery typically highlights the rescues of survivors, the arrests of criminals is actually a significant factor in the prevention of more trafficking. When we make human trafficking a more dangerous crime by arresting and prosecuting traffickers by supporting local police, the cycle of trafficking is broken. The arrest and prosecution of a trafficker not only stops the abuse of a survivor today, but prevents the exploitation and abuse of many more potential victims tomorrow.
For this reason, resources and organizations that enable trafficking prosecutions also promote trafficking prevention. The Human Trafficking Hotline is a confidential tool for reporting suspicious activity that could indicate signs of trafficking, or if you believe you are in a trafficking situation in the United States. Other hotlines exist in various countries for the same purpose. Outside of the United States, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime exists to offer help to countries by helping to draft laws to criminalize trafficking and create national counter-trafficking strategies and also assists with the resources to implement them.
Work at the policy level and in courtrooms is also critical for successful prosecutions. In 2000 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women and Children; a significant milestone in international efforts to stop trafficking which was entered into force at the end of 2003. As stated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “It is the first global, legally-binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons. The intention behind this definition is to facilitate convergence in national approaches with regard to the establishment of domestic criminal offenses that would support efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases.” Organizations that focus on bringing justice to criminals as well as working at the policy level of governments, like International Justice Mission, are also making significant impact in making trafficking more dangerous in the world today.
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We can all be a part of human trafficking prevention.
This work of preventing human trafficking belongs to all of us. While it is critical to rescue the “babies in the river” it also remains vital to continue thoughtful and strategic work upstream, as well. Your advocacy, purchasing choices, volunteer hours, and financial generosity towards the work of prevention matters in your own community and globally, as well. Together, we can ensure that vulnerable individuals are safer, at-risk communities are more stable, and human trafficking is a more dangerous crime.