This year, we celebrate 10 years of concentrated efforts to locally address human trafficking. One decade is a significant amount of time and is a point for reflection as well as an opportunity to look forward. For the history and our founding or the programs we operate, I’ll refer you to the Who We Are section on our website. For now, I’d like to take the time to reflect upon our impact, big and small, and the lessons we have learned.
In the 10 years that we have sought to make an imprint on the anti-trafficking movement, I am most proud of our work with future leaders (i.e., interns) as well as our wide variety of collaborations with organizations, agencies, and individuals. Perhaps this is because collaborations and leaders are made of people. It is humbling to facilitate meetings where the table hosts law enforcement agents, feminist activists, secular nonprofit and faith-based leaders, academicians, corporate leaders, politicians, interns, and survivors. Once the table is set, it is how we maintain these relationships that I believe will make the movement sustainable. Intensive, respectful dialogue and collaboration among people from many different disciplines is key to addressing any crime as immense as human trafficking. As I reflect on my involvement over the years, I’d like to note some of my own lessons learned:
1) Respecting survivor voices. When I have listened – taking the time to really listen – to people share their lived experiences, I have become a better person and a better leader. I am not referring to someone sharing personal traumatic details; rather, I refer to the co-learning that occurs in these conversations. For example, I have learned ways to more sensitively train and educate, to pay close attention to the language that I use, and to not over-intellectualize a topic that is emotional but to not sensationalize it either. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that people are resilient; human trafficking is just a part of one’s story.
2) Mentorship of future leaders. Since 2005, we have supported 106 interns. I have spent 10 years reframing the phrase, “I’m just an intern,” to one that denotes confidence and deserving of a place at the table. We have been able to accomplish many meaningful projects because of these future leaders and they have gone on to contribute their skills and talents to become foreign aid officers, lawyers, teachers, police officers, social workers, and film directors. They are critical to sustaining the momentum of this movement.
3) Research matters. As a nonprofit that conducts research, I share an immense respect for the blending of rigorous research design with practitioner expertise. I believe that we must respond to this global issue locally – we must seek ways to comprehensively address human trafficking, and to leverage existing resources in our communities. Our research projects are designed locally, and can be replicated by other cities and states around the country, reinforcing the idea of collectively sharing and learning. Researchers can help us make sense of what we’re seeing and hearing on the ground. Survivors and first responders can help guide us to the to the right questions.
These lessons provide a fundamental compass for the next 10 years: Keep survivor voices central, teach the next generation how to comprehensively address human trafficking, and integrate collaborative, and research-supported actions to effect long-term systemic change.