Human Trafficking Blog

Shifting Perceptions: Internship Reflections From Rebecca Brownsword

The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking’s Leadership Development Program exists to prepare human rights leaders and survivors with the knowledge, skills, and professional development opportunities necessary to contribute to the anti-trafficking movement. We are proud to have the opportunity to work alongside leaders like Rebecca Brownsword, who is wrapping up her participation with our spring cohort and graduating from CU Boulder next month. She recently shared about her time with LCHT.

What led you to an interest in anti-trafficking and human rights work?

In 2015, I entered my freshman year at the University of Colorado Boulder to pursue a degree in Political Science and Women and Gender Studies. My studies ignited a passion for gender justice, civil servitude, and political efficacy for marginalized communities. It also led me to volunteer opportunities outside the classroom like becoming a victims hotline advocate for Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA). My community work provided me with new insight on my education which I could not have experienced within the walls of a classroom.

Last summer, I attended a conference on human trafficking led by A World Without Exploitation in New York City.  I knew that human trafficking was more prevalent than the general public assumed and I knew it occurred within the United States, but that was about it. At the conference I heard from survivors and advocates and it made the issue more concrete for me. I look back on my preconceived notions of human trafficking with some embarrassment. I understood that the issue was real and that it was many people’s reality, but I felt distant from the conversation. I wanted to be educated, and in turn educate others. When I was looking for an internship this semester I came across LCHT because I thought it would be a good way to learn about human trafficking especially as it relates to Colorado.

“To talk about human rights and social justice without considering human trafficking is to silence victims and prevent lasting solutions.”

-Rebecca Brownsword

During your time here, what was something new or surprising you learned about trafficking?

I came to LCHT with a lot of preconceived notions about what human trafficking looks like and who it affects. As a passionate feminist and a gender studies student, I expected human trafficking to be a “Women’s Issue”. Not only was this ideology untrue, it was very harmful. All kinds of people are at risk for getting trafficked, and its misleading to paint the picture of victims as only being women.  While women are implicated by this issue, to see trafficking solely as a women’s issue would be to deny to other survivors their story.

Rebecca Brownsword (far left) at orientation with part of the spring cohort in the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking’s Leadership Development Program

You supported training during your time with LCHT and interacted with many different communities and groups. Were there any notable moments or experiences that were instructive to you?

It was truly inspiring for me to see both Kara Napolitano and Mary Landerholm facilitate trainings.  I attended trainings for agencies that work with immigrants and refugees, the LGBTQIA+ community, and homeless youth. The Lab customizes content for each audience so that the information we share is tailored to the organization we are training. When we trained OASOS— an organization that works with LGBTQIA+  youth–it was interesting to observe the intersection that exists between that community and human trafficking. Because LGBTQIA+ youth have higher rates of homelessness, they are at a bigger risk for being trafficked. Finding these connections is so important because we are concerned with how to help different communities work to end exploitation in their context. You can’t take on an issue with one specific lens, you have to see the intersections at hand.

LCHT operates Colorado’s human trafficking hotline, and you spent some time reviewing the resource agencies that support the hotline. What would you say about this kind of resource and its potential to support survivors?

I was surprised by how extensive the hotline resource directory is – it is evident LCHT has put a tremendous amount of effort into developing anti-trafficking resources and making connections all across Colorado. I think that people would be interested to know how many different resources can be helpful to survivors. People might assume that trafficking survivors only need resources like legal counseling and housing, but it’s much more than that. We can help a survivor find a dentist, a soup kitchen, a sexual assault case manager, a therapist– the list of resources goes on and on. Additionally we work hard to train resource agencies about human trafficking as well as how to be trauma-informed in the delivery of their services.

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Part of this program is focused on leadership development- what have you learned about yourself as a leader during your time here?

I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to be a member of the Leadership Development Program. The trainings were intentional so that by the end of program we felt like we could be proper advocates. We learned about the main tenets of force, fraud, and coercion and from there went on to understand marginalized communities, the history of the anti-trafficking movement, and the impact of trauma. The Leadership Development Program allowed me to understand why the projects that the LCHT works on are so important.  I loved that this internship was just as much about us helping with tasks as it was about becoming fully informed advocates. Having a mentor throughout this experience really helped me to have a deeper reflection about what I was learning.

What do you envision is next in your professional journey?  What will you carry forward from this experience about human rights and social justice?

I am graduating from college in two short weeks, so this internship came at a crucial time for me. I am currently job searching and I feel like LCHT has helped guide me with what I want to do in the future. I hope to continue to work in a nonprofit that focuses on injustice and human rights for marginalized communities.

I have come to believe that the issues which are discussed the most are the ones which are publicized the most. We often forget about human trafficking because it’s not something we feel we encounter everyday.  We simply don’t see the things that we aren’t looking for- and if society became more aware of this issue we would understand how big of a problem it really is. The longer we act like it only happens in foreign countries or to specific people, the more the problem prevails. To talk about human rights and social justice without considering human trafficking is to silence victims and prevent lasting solutions.