Survivor Engagement outlines the critical work of ensuring your partnership is both survivor-centered and trauma-informed.

Survivors of human trafficking have a compelling role to play in combating human trafficking effectively throughout the world, as well as locally in Colorado. Survivors bring a profound understanding of human trafficking based on their lived experience. They provide the clues investigators need as evidence in court, as well as signs a community needs to identify and ultimately prevent trafficking (U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, 2016). They also bring a unique perspective on the effectiveness and sustainability of programming meant to support survivors both in crisis and in their long-term survivorship. The importance of survivor inclusion is needed at all levels of policy decision making. Though there are diverse ways a survivor may choose to engage in the anti-trafficking movement, significant involvement and knowledge gained from individuals with lived experiences has been found in every aspect of the 4Ps (Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnership).

Survivorship and Your Partnership 

  • Survivors can often feel tokenized as the only survivor and therefore responsible for holding that perspective for all survivors. 
  • Survivors are often resistant to volunteer their involvement in the criminal justice system.
  • Having a justice practice guided by the needs of individual survivors is critical to bring trust back to the process.
  • Established survivor leaders or those that are becoming survivor leaders are often overtaxed with participation requests. Be cognizant that they may not be able to participate when asked because they already have other commitments.

The importance of survivor leaders in partnerships:

  • Survivors contribute a profound understanding of human trafficking based on their lived experience.
  • Survivors provide clues investigators need as evidence in court as well as signs a community needs to identify and ultimately prevent trafficking.
  • Survivors bring a unique perspective on the effectiveness and sustainability of programming meant to support survivors both in crisis and in their long-term survivorship.


Possible roles for survivor leaders:

  • Advocating for change
  • Being an example by moving away from the “victim” mentality 
  • Giving feedback to professionals, agencies, and support services
  • Giving hope
  • Helping others speak up
  • Leaving a legacy 
  • Supporting and mentoring each other

Here are some tips on supporting the transition from survivor to leader:

  • Survivors need the opportunity to grow and learn in a supportive, non-judgemental space.
  • Survivors need the opportunity to develop knowledge & skills.
  • Survivors need the opportunity to build their confidence/self-esteem.
  • Survivors need the opportunity to discover their own strength & resilience. 
  • Survivors need the opportunity to impact others & make a difference.
  • Survivors need the opportunity to move forward.
  • Experienced survivor consultants can support key task force functions, particularly obtaining feedback of activities at the local level. 
  • Survivor leader boards can aid in preventing tokenization, provide peer-to-peer mentorship and support, and help in establishing a truly survivor-centered organization.
  • Survivor leaders bring an expertise to this type of work which is not available through any other source and those who are asked to participate and contribute to anti-trafficking initiatives should be treated as professional consultants and compensated appropriately. 
  • Consider creating full time positions for survivors or make job openings more accessible to survivors with experience and education equivalencies.

Trauma-Informed Partnerships

Key areas to consider:

  • Governance and leadership
  • Policy
  • Physical environment
  • Engagement and involvement
  • Cross sector collaboration
  • Screening, assessment, treatment services
  • Training and workforce development
  • Progress monitoring and quality assurance
  • Financing
  • Evaluation 


The Four R’s: key assumptions in a trauma-informed approach:

1. Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery.

2. Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, and staff.

3. Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.

4. Seek to actively resist re-traumatization. 

Six key principles of a trauma-informed approach* (see also the CDC collaboration):

1. Safety

    • The physical setting is safe and interpersonal interactions promote a sense of safety (physical and emotional security).


2. Trustworthiness and transparency

    • Partnership operations and decisions are conducted with transparency with the goal of building and maintaining trust with clients and staff.


3. Survivor support

    • Peer/survivor support and mutual self-help establish safety and hope, build trust, enhance collaboration, and utilize stories and lived experience to promote recovery and healing.


4. Collaboration and mutuality

    • The partnership recognizes that everyone has a role to play in a trauma-informed approach.
    • The leveling of power differences between staff and clients demonstrates that healing happens in relationships and in the sharing of power and decision-making.


5. Empowerment, voice, and choice 

    • The partnership believes in the priority of the people served, in resilience, and in the ability of individuals and communities to heal and promote recovery from trauma.
    • Clients are supported in shared decision-making, choice, and goal setting to determine the plan of action they need to heal and move forward, as well as being supported in cultivating self-advocacy skills.
    • Staff also need to feel safe, as much as people receiving services.


6. Cultural, historical, and gender issues 

    • The partnership actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases.
    • The partnership offers access to gender responsive services.
    • The partnership leverages the healing value of traditional cultural connections.
    • The partnership incorporates policies, protocols, and processes that are responsive to the racial, ethnic and cultural needs of individuals served, and recognizes and addresses historical trauma.

In-person training resources:

ACE Interface

GAINS Center Trauma Training for Criminal Justice Professionals (SAMHSA)

  • Recognizes the brevity of trauma and realizes the symptoms/signs.
  • Centered around advocacy and interaction with victims.


Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center

  • A two part training emphasizing working with children, challenging individuals, and utilizing trauma-informed care
  • Trainings can be at organization sites.


Lakeside Global Institute

  • Helps for ongoing professional development on social work, education, and early-childhood professions.  
  • Collegiate-style professional development.


National Council on Behavioral Health Trauma-Informed Care Learning Community

  • Helps mental health and substance use organizations to integrate and sustain trauma-informed care in their organization’s practices.


Origins Training and Consulting

  • Offers training and consulting for organizations and communities to integrate resilience and trauma-informed practices based on the science of adverse childhood experiences.


Online training resources:

The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative Brain Story Certification

  • Free course focusing on science and significance of early experiences and their impact on lifelong health


THRIVE’s Trauma-Informed Webinar Trainings

Confidentiality Considerations

Explore Other Sections of the Partnership Toolkit

Partnership 101

How do you define a partnership? How will you be intentionally inclusive in your membership?


partnership-101-5-200x200 copy

Partnership Management

Has your partnership set up specific goals and strategies?


Funding Your Partnership

How will you fund your partnerships’ work? What funding sources are available to you?


Trust and Sustainability

How will you maintain trust and resolve conflict?


Contact Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline Today

Colorado’s 24/7 Human Trafficking Hotline is managed by the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking. Request referrals, report tips, or get help today.

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