This month we’re proud to welcome Brittany Austin to the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking as our newest staff member! Brittany is joining The Lab as a Program Coordinator and will support expansion of our hotline & resource directory, including the launch of a new textline. We asked Brittany to share a little bit more about her background and how she ended up with LCHT.
Welcome to The Lab! We’re excited to have you as our new Program Coordinator. Tell us what drew you to this position and anti-trafficking work in general?
I am honored to be here! My pathway into anti-trafficking work began with the simple awareness of how pervasive this crime is – that it’s close to home and we all likely know and love someone who is vulnerable to it. I just felt an immediate and inherent need to be involved – to seek out reflection and conversation about the human capacity for such egregious forms of human rights abuse, and about how we continue to evolve away from that as a species. And more pragmatically, about how we seek eradication now.
This resolve was strengthened while working closely with torture survivors during my fieldwork in graduate school. I observed the unique and horrific effects of captivity and abusive relational power dynamics, while also witnessing the human capacity for resilience, the sustainable healing that can occur within healthy relation to others, and the possibility for cultivation of pathways forward. It is possible to restore a sense of safety and connection in the aftermath of trauma, so it is compelling to me that the primary focus of my position is ensuring every survivor is connected to that opportunity.
A big part of your focus at LCHT will be on our Hotline and Resource Directory. Why do you think a program like this matters?
What I love about hotlines is that they ignore traditional confines that can often create barriers to services. They are available 24/7, allow for complete anonymity and everyone qualifies. And they are usually run by awesome people who are eager to connect with individuals who may be on the outskirts of the service delivery system (realizing I just called myself awesome there, so do forgive me!).
It is never lost on me how immensely challenging it can be to reach out and ask for help, so there is a level of responsibility that comes along with being the first point of contact for someone who has summoned the courage to do so. I am passionate about ensuring those initial interactions are positive ones that facilitate connection, foster trust and cultivate the hope and strength necessary to take another small step forward.
The Hotline also serves as an immediate feedback loop that informs our work and how we prioritize our efforts, so it is intrinsically intertwined with the Resource Directory. If we receive a call from a geographic area where we aren’t in touch with service providers or haven’t facilitated training, we know we need to make connections there. We often think of individuals calling into a hotline as those who are in need of something from us, but it is these individuals who hold the knowledge and insight required to ensure we are comprehensively responding to human trafficking in Colorado. They are essential to our efforts and this movement. I am eager to maintain the integrity of our current referral network and to work to make it even more robust so that every single person who desires support has an accessible place to turn.
What are you most excited to help develop in the months ahead?
What am I most excited about? So much! There is strength in numbers, so the fact that the Hotline operates entirely on the shoulders of volunteer advocates inspires me. I draw energy from working alongside a mobilzed group of people to move the needle on an issue so I am excited to learn from and champion our advocates. And my heart did skip a beat when I learned of LCHT’s intention to build a supplemental textline, as it’s a project I feel really motivated by.
You recently held a job where you built and oversaw a crisis textline that engaged thousands of people. Tell us a little more about that job, and some of the challenges and successes you experienced.
Here’s the thing. Current systems of care reach a very small percentage of individuals in need. If we continue to keep outreach and service delivery in a box, people will continue to suffer in isolation – those who are geographically isolated, socially anxious, without transportation, too sick to leave their home…I could go on and on. We need to do better and that involves innovation. When properly utilized, technology can break down barriers to service and care and can be a tool for increased human connection, as opposed to something that separates us from one another.
Building a textline from scratch allowed me to see firsthand the impact an anonymous, text based system of support can have for some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. We created touch points with people in the earliest stages of change, reaching those without access to or knowledge of local resources and helping them connect with care and support. We built trust and fostered hope with individuals who had become disenchanted by predatory or unsatisfactory systems of care that had failed them. I was continuously amazed by the strength of connection present within these written exchanges, often observing the simple power that a warm, emotionally attuned and non-judgmental response can hold for someone who is in a really tough spot.
Our greatest challenge was often keeping up with demand. There are a lot of people who are interested in engaging through this medium and that is an exciting problem to have! We also spent a great deal of time analyzing and refining our language and tone. This was a continuous, exploratory process – I often lied awake at night just pondering words. Considering how we can best convey things like empathy, solidarity or humor in writing. Or how we can quickly, and without visual cues, engage with someone who had the courage to reach out to us in a way that makes them feel seen and held in a non-judgmental space. Or how we make the most of a short conversation and help someone who is considering some sort of small change, reach out, take a first step or come back and talk to us again later if they just aren’t ready.
So how do we continue to do these things with integrity at scale? These are all important questions to consider if we are interested in successfully utilizing a tool like a textline in a humane, inclusive and impactful way and they will remain top of mind for me while we incorporate this into our programming at LCHT.
You also have a lot of social work experience, and you’ve provided trauma-informed services in a variety of settings. How do you think that part of your background will support your work at LCHT?
I joined the field of social work because its primary mission involves turning towards society’s most vulnerable populations and the world’s most pressing concerns. My work has involved issues that leave people vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking – things like poverty, migration, oppression, disability, mental illness, homelessness and substance dependency. To now step into a role where my actions directly support the goal of eradication and to do so with an organization that approaches its work in such a methodical, sustainable and collaborative way is truly a dream come true. My relationships with individuals experiencing exploitation and the knowledge I gained from them informs everything I do.
Trauma is an overlay, so it must remain at the forefront of our decisions and actions. It is just so utterly pervasive in our culture and worldwide. To experience trauma is part of the shared experience of being human. The only beauty in that is that it can be a point of connection, so I am a big advocate of turning towards our own experiences and considering how they may allow us to disrupt power imbalances, build empathic bridges and create authentic connection with those we seek to serve. I also think it is important to acknowledge that trauma exists for stewards of human rights and that we need to nurture our capacity to do the work. There is a trauma-informed way to run an organization internally, manage volunteers or be a worker yourself and we need to lead in that way in order to be of sustainable impact.
You’ve worked on a variety of social issues- and now you’re about to step into anti-trafficking. What keeps you motivated in this kind of work?
I suppose it’s a deep sense of responsibility to humanity. When you are exposed to the depth of suffering present in our world or experience some of it yourself, it is difficult to then look away. The opportunity to connect regularly with the human capacity for resilience is a gift and seeing individual and systematic progress, no matter how small, helps me to sustain in this work. Plus, so many social change agents came before me and I feel compelled to ensure the torch they carried remains well lit. Alice Walker said “activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet” and that has always resonated with me.
And the people! If you are reading this I assume you’ve met the people who work for and alongside LCHT or you are one of them yourself, yes? So you get it and that’s what you see across the sector. Inspiring, interesting, and hardworking people who are dedicated to change. With whom else would I want to spend my days?
Finally… you are a new resident here in Colorado- recently moving from L.A.! Is the traffic really not bad here to you? Seriously, though, what are you most excited about in your new home?
I’ll diplomatically respond by saying that it’s all relative and traffic is traffic. But yeah, I’m not yet complaining about it here. Ask me again in a year?
Aside from everything LCHT related, I’ve got to throw it to the outdoors! Spending time in the natural world is restorative and energizing for my family. It’s what we prioritize, so the opportunity to explore all the beauty and wonder of this state was a huge draw for us. We are pinching ourselves, really…to be here in Colorado, in close connection with nature, steeped in the work we love with amazing people by our sides and of course, sending photos like the one above to all of our friends in LA who are currently stuck in traffic.