It’s an exciting week here at The Lab! We are proud to announce that in addition to taking phone calls, Colorado’s 24/7 Human Trafficking Hotline is now available through text messaging! As text line services become a more popular means of communicating and supporting people in crisis, we know that text features will only strengthen our statewide anti-trafficking resource. Beginning today, you can reach Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline in two ways: Call 866-455-5075 or Text 720-999-9724.
WHY TEXT MESSAGING?
Text messaging holds particular promise for reaching more human trafficking survivors, connecting with them in a trauma responsive way, and effectively facilitating referrals to supportive services. The opportunity to diversify our outreach and reach a wider audience through this new medium helps to ensure we are comprehensively responding to this crime in Colorado, moving us closer to our vision of an end to human trafficking.
Texting is the default mode of communication for younger generations. There are power imbalances present for youth in most aspects of their lives. This is especially true for youth who are vulnerable to or experiencing exploitation. Texting helps to disrupt these power imbalances by meeting youth in need where they are and communicating with them in a way that feels familiar, safe, and easy. Texting gives our advocates the unique opportunity to bridge some of the gaps that exist between youth and service providers, and connect them to alternative opportunities to fill a critical need that may currently be being filled by a trafficker.
THE POWER OF REMAINING ANONYMOUS
Texting also offers an increased level of anonymity, which facilitates connection in a variety of ways. Remaining anonymous is a vital resource for a survivor who lacks autonomy, as it allows for a more discreet form of communication that simply is not possible over the phone. Texts can be sent quietly from under the table or from a bathroom stall. Text conversations can be carried out from a loud room or a crowded bus. The increased ease available with text outreach helps to break down barriers and will result in increased connection with our community.
The anonymity present within text conversations also offers emotional benefits. It can be a trying experience to ask for help or to share something intimate or painful with another human being. Remaining anonymous decreases the emotional burden often present within an initial request for help or a disclosure of traumatic events. We never require details in order to explore options and connect a survivor to resources. That choice is always the individual’s.
Trends in text line services show that disclosure is more common over text. Two thirds of individuals seeking crisis support via text will share something they have never told anyone before.
For survivors that do wish to disclose something or share a part of themselves, the anonymity of texting facilitates a decrease in the common feelings of isolation and shame that can accompany doing so in person or over the phone. And texting can sometimes offer a safe container for those tough conversations. Writing, as opposed to speaking can naturally pace a traumatic narrative in a way that titrates the physiological response that occurs when we discuss a traumatic experience,keeping a survivor safe while helping them feel heard and validated.
BEYOND TRADITIONAL SYSTEMS OF CARE
If you are reading this and feeling skeptical, I get it. I previously worked at an organization operating a text line in the substance dependency space. When I first considered getting involved, I was uncertain about the impact we would be able to have over text, where the absence of both visual and auditory cues held the potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding on both ends. I worried about missed opportunities for connection.
What I found instead is that text based support is a very powerful and meaningful avenue for reaching the people you seek to serve and support- and that it is especially effective at reaching individuals who have been failed by traditional systems of care.
Technology can often be perceived as cold and impersonal; something that serves as a distraction, as opposed to a means of relational development. And sometimes it is just that, but it can also exist in service to us. Have you ever laughed out loud upon receiving a text from a friend? Have you ever witnessed someone on a bus smiling giddily at their phone as if it were an adorable puppy? Have you ever felt that warm glow of appreciation following a witty text exchange with your coworkers or felt a sense of comfort akin to a hug following a supportive message on a tough day? These everyday experiences demonstrate that positive emotions like empathy, compassion, humor and solidarity can be conveyed through text and speak to the very authentic sense of human connection possible through this medium.
REACHING MORE OF OUR COMMUNITY
Now also consider how Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline might reach people who have previously been unreachable:
- A 16 year old kid trying to survive on the streets who feels more comfortable chatting casually over text than picking up a phone.
- A survivor who is still living with their perpetrator and lacks the necessary privacy to speak over the phone, but who can text discreetly without being found out, or the survivor being trafficked by a family member who is ambivalent about seeking support but wants to chat informally and understand what might be available.
- A concerned community member observing a potentially exploitative situation and who instead of needing to step away in order to call the hotline, can discreetly reach out over text, recording observations in real time with the guidance of a trained advocate that can then be passed along to law enforcement in a thorough and expedited manner.
EMPOWERING MESSAGES FOR SURVIVORS
I also want to shine a light on the potential text support has to facilitate movement through the early stages of change. Logistically speaking, storing resources and phone numbers on your phone makes it easier to recall a plan that was discussed with an advocate and later reach out to a resource or service provider. But follow through is wrought with barriers. It is in no way simple and takes a tremendous amount of fortitude.
So also consider how powerful it could be for a survivor who may be isolated and apprehensive about taking a step in any direction to be able to revisit a conversation they had with a caring advocate and see validating and empowering messages:
> You are resilient and resourceful.
> You’ve got this. I’m right here with you.
> I believe you. It’s not ok that this is happening.
> Your strength and determination blows me away.
> You can text us back anytime.
Have you ever saved a thank you card or a meaningful note someone wrote you during a trying time, storing it away to reread on a day when you need a little boost of encouragement? No one should feel alone as they move through life and navigate impossible situations. We see texting as an opportunity to walk alongside these strong individuals and bolster their resolve as they seek a more just future for themselves.
MADE POSSIBLE BY… YOU
We remain grounded in gratitude to our community as we take this next programmatic step. If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are part of the reason our organization is now able to offer this critical text-based support. Perhaps you served as a thought partner by participating in initial exploratory conversations. Maybe you helped with strategic planning, providing advice on best practices based on your own organizational experience. Or maybe you simply decided to make a donation in support of this expanded service. We are grateful for these immeasurable contributions to Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline – thank you!
If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are part of the reason our organization is now able to offer this critical text-based support.
We would not be able to launch this service without the support of the community organizations who are working to address exploitation across the state of Colorado. To all the service providers who are the backbone of this hotline, thank you for the work you do.
I’ll close with a special shout out to the dedicated, entrepreneurial volunteer advocates who are working behind the scenes as we launch our text based support. From the very beginning, the hotline has stood on the shoulders of people who volunteer their time to seek an end to human trafficking. For your tireless efforts and commitment to your community, we remain inspired and grateful.
Brittany Austin is the Program Coordinator with the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking. In her most recent role with Triggr Health, she built and oversaw a text line in the addiction recovery space that engaged thousands of vulnerable individuals in care. Brittany is overseeing the expansion of Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline to include text.