Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking

We Imagine: Leaders Engaged in Human Rights Work

This International Human Rights Day, we are taking time to recognize our fall Leadership Development Program interns. We are sad to see some of them move on from LCHT, but we know they will all continue to use their skills and apply their passion for human rights wherever they go next! 

We recently reached out to ask this special group about their interests in human rights work and how they perceive human trafficking differently after their time working with LCHT. Here are some of their thoughts:

Today is Human Rights Day, which marks the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. When did human rights become important for you and what are some of the ways you’ve shown up for human rights issues in your life?

Lauren: Growing up in Alabama, I got a firsthand look at the generational effects of racial injustices stemming from slavery to the civil rights movement. After graduating with my Bachelor’s degree, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where my interest in the civil rights movement continued to grow. I visited the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and it was here that I experienced a lightbulb moment. My interests, passions, and skills aligned to pursue work in the human rights field. After working with various nonprofits, I applied for a Master of Social Work at the University of Denver, where I am a current student. Through my education and experiences, I hope to listen and learn from others to create community-based change to improve and expand access to basic rights and equity across Colorado. 

Madison: I gained a deeper understanding of human rights issues when working at a non-profit that supports asylees and refugees. According to article 14 in the UN Declaration, everyone should have the right to seek asylum safely in another country. That is rarely a right that is afforded to people, especially depending on the existing  world view of their country of origin. I’ve been involved with LCHTs anti trafficking work since 2013, so I’ve been learning more about addressing this issue from a human rights lens for a while now!

Is it important to view human trafficking as a human rights issue? Why?

Madison: Human trafficking has traditionally been viewed from a law-and-order perspective. This narrow lens defines people as either criminals or victims. This is harmful because it fails to recognize the intricacies and diversities of each experience. What if someone doesn’t identify as a victim? What happens when someone is trafficked and is forced to do illegal things by their trafficker? A human rights approach sees the inherent dignity in every person, and also acknowledges a broad range of contexts in which trafficking occurs. 

Sierra: Viewing human trafficking through a human rights lens is essential because it helps reframe the issue. We as humans like to put things into boxes like “right” vs. “wrong,” and “good” vs. “evil.” But in human trafficking, the lines are often blurred. What happens if the only way a young immigrant from Mexico is able to repay his debt to a coyote is by bringing other young immigrants across the border to work on a farm in Georgia for fourteen hours a day with little to no pay, threatening their families, and forcing them into inescapable debt? This young man may be categorized as both a victim and a perpetrator of human trafficking. Understanding the systemic injustices that make human trafficking a profitable practice in the first place allows us to recognize the humanity within people so that we can tackle the root causes of the issue and ensure that overlooked communities can access their human rights.

This fall you’ve participated in LCHT’s Leadership Development Program, which supports emerging human rights leaders. How has your time here shaped your view of human rights work and human trafficking particularly?

Dani: I have developed a more nuanced understanding of human trafficking that has helped localize my understanding of human rights. Human rights work is messy but important, and it must be done sustainably with the active input of survivors of human rights violations, avoiding the use of savior and rescue language, practices, and policies. My time with LCHT has also highlighted for me the importance of worksite wellness and self-care in order to sustain oneself in human rights work.

Julia:  LCHT’s Leadership Development Program does an incredible job of teaching the different facets of this issue in all of its complexity. Understanding that human trafficking occurs because of systemic issues like poverty, discrimination, and wealth inequality was a big perspective shift for me. Learning about the role of trauma in human trafficking including how trauma affects the brain was also key to better understanding this issue. 

An international day for human rights reminds us of how these are issues of global significance. But in so many ways, they are only addressed through local responses. How have you seen that in practice at LCHT? Are you optimistic about our local responses to human trafficking?

Julia: I am optimistic about the local response to human trafficking, and the ways in which it is becoming more coordinated and informed due to LCHT’s work. The number of people LCHT has been able to educate, the incredible partnerships the organization has made, and the existence of a 24/7 trafficking hotline shows me there is a strong local response that will continue to improve. Human trafficking is a daunting issue, but LCHT and its partners are responding with evidence-based practices, cooperation, and commitment, and that is what I find most inspiring. 

Dani: The more I’ve learned about human rights, the more I see local responses – especially grassroots movements that influence policy – as the most effective and sustainable way to address violations. I believe LCHT’s response to human trafficking can and should be used as a model for other states, not just for anti-human trafficking efforts but for other human rights issues as well. Because LCHT is an organization informed by data and research, collaboration with survivors, multidisciplinary efforts from partnerships across the state, and values of social justice and human dignity, their local response to human trafficking is more likely to produce lasting, beneficial change.

What’s next for you? How do you see yourself making an impact on human rights issues moving forward?

Lauren: That is a great question! I’m continuing to work towards my Master of Social Work and graduate in June 2021. After that, I’ll be job searching for a role that allows me to continue developing my skills as a social worker and advocate in the field of human rights in Colorado. I’ll also continue my work with LCHT’s human trafficking hotline long after completing the leadership development program. Hopefully getting a dog is somewhere in that future too!

Sierra: Moving forward, I plan to pursue a career in international human rights law. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and French from DU this spring, I’ll be attending law school somewhere in the US or Canada starting in the fall.  I want to learn as much as I can about human rights advocacy before (hopefully!) entering the world of UN treaties and international conventions. Along with human trafficking, my biggest interests are migration and women’s education and empowerment.

All of these issues intersect in complex and critical ways, and I have seen this through my work with LCHT. To make a tangible impact on these issues, I intend to use my knowledge of the law (with all its perks and limitations) as well as the leadership skills, and knowledge of population vulnerabilities and human rights policy development learned from my time at LCHT to educate others on their own rights, implement policies that serve justice to those left behind, and reform legislation that poses a threat to human rights progress.

Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking

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