The Importance of Institutional Pluralism in Combating Human Trafficking

Civil society organizations, including faith-based and community-based groups, play a crucial role in supporting human trafficking survivors. Because of their distinct perspectives and approaches to this nuanced issues, they are equipped to bring greater awareness to human trafficking and advance human rights.

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The United Nations defines human trafficking as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force … to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” Human trafficking victims are forced to live in incomprehensible conditions and experience severe physical, emotional, sexual and psychological violence. Survivors have varying needs due to the particular trauma they suffered and their cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds. In addition, integration back into society, in the words of the anti-human trafficking organization, Exodus Cry confirms it “is incredibly difficult because of the shame, stigma, threat of retribution, and trauma experienced during enslavement.”

It is a common misconception that human trafficking victims voluntarily engage in sex work. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the data shows otherwise. People in trafficking may lack necessities such as transportation to leave, or a safe place for them to escape to, and therefore are rightfully stuck in fear for their safety. Many faith-based organizations are dedicated to lifting up trafficking survivors as individuals who have experienced severe exploitation and trauma at the hands of others. Because of this gap in understanding, survivors often do not receive the support they need to integrate back into society. And in fact, survivors are often susceptible to human trafficking due to other factors such as mental health issues or lack of familial support in foster care. To properly tend to victims of human trafficking, there is a great need for civil society groups to contribute to protecting the well-being of these individuals.

Civil society organizations, including faith-based and community-based groups, can raise awareness about human trafficking through education and advocacy efforts, including building coalitions, engaging local media and cultivating relationships with government officials. To be a place-based organization, means they can uniquely connect the people they are serving in their local communities because of a stronger understanding of cultural needs depending on their community contexts. Diversity within these groups are crucial. Local governments should support the proper roles and responsibilities by making space for diverse organizations to continue in their hands on efforts, while also pursuing opportunities to partner with faith-based and community-based nonprofits that will encourage solutions to end human trafficking. A faith-based aspect is necessary because the organization serves human trafficking survivors out of their devotion to Christ, which means they serve out of a higher motivation and have a deeper sense of purpose. In addition, space for faith-based organizations (FBOs) is important because survivors of human trafficking need to have the ability to choose care that is most applicable to their psychological, cultural, or spiritual needs. FBOs bring a unique voice to anti-human trafficking efforts through partnerships with diverse coalitions, and engaging in media as a platform to speak out against the issue from a biblical perspective, which is a different motivation compared to any other nonprofit. In this article, I am going to introduce three faith-based organizations that successfully adhere to their biblically motivated mission, while also maintaining a strong, respectable position in the public square working with government officials and local resources.  

An Introduction to Faith-Based Organizations with Anti-Human Trafficking Programs

The U.S. Department of State established the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is crucial in protecting victims and prosecuting criminals with “the tools to combat trafficking in persons both worldwide and domestically.” However, some of the most effective efforts in stopping human trafficking are credited to non-governmental organizations. Faith-based organizations that address human trafficking are unique because their dedication to improve human life is based on deeply held beliefs. I will provide a brief overview of three different faith-based organizations that successfully bring awareness to human trafficking and advance human rights. Through advocacy, care programs and collaboration with government and community groups alike, these faith-based organizations are making distinct contributions to preventing human trafficking and support victims.

Exodus Cry

Exodus Cry is a faith-based organization dedicated to ending human trafficking because of the belief that God “wants to set the captives free.” Their team works through “cultural and legal reform” and effectively brought the Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act to the attention of Congress. Exodus Cry embodies public justice because they are working with legislation in order to advance justice. They recognize their role in bringing awareness and providing care, but are also knowledgeable that government has the authority to establish laws that could potentially support their mission. Exodus Cry also works with local neighborhoods, partners with trafficking abolitionists and informs government officials of issues related to human trafficking. Exodus Cry also partners with several businesses that support the cause of ending modern-day slavery. For example, Homesown is a business devoted to sharing funds to help their nonprofit partnerships buy homes. Because Exodus Cry partners with Homesown, the staff at Exodus Cry are better supported to pair housing with their services. This provides survivors with basic necessities.

Exodus Cry demonstrates “the love of Christ” by engaging in relationships with survivors and further empowering exploited individuals to see their value in Christ. Exodus Cry, shaped by a belief in the inherent human dignity of each individual, intentionally builds relationships with survivors for more supportive and holistic healing. Exodus Cry meets the specific needs of diverse individuals within several targeted communities where the organization’s offices and staff are located. Staff faithfully desire to abolish sexual exploitation and evaluate the different needs and goals of survivors to help them move toward restoration. This is important because staff are not simply doing an everyday job, but rather they are providing a ministry out of a conviction to serve. They are determined to fulfill a biblical call in upholding human worth in the image of God, which greatly impacts how they carry out their relationships with victims, in a deep, faith-based purpose.  

There is no question that human trafficking survivors need care and empowerment to integrate back into society after trauma. Exodus Cry recognizes the sad reality that victims may have been coaxed into slavery because of a lack of resources and options for their future. As part of its outreach, Exodus Cry is dedicated to offering “many options on the path to freedom” that incorporate “restorative programs that fit [survivors’] individual needs.” These options include, but are not limited to, housing, healthcare, job training and education. Exodus Cry represents a public justice framework because it recognizes its distinct responsibility to supply spiritually-based, restorative care based on the unique needs of every survivor.

Amirah Boston

Amirah Boston is another faith-based organization that combats human trafficking. Amirah’s Whole Person Care invites women into a residency program that cares for a diversity of experiences and individualized needs. Amirah has a specialized focus on “physical, mental, emotional, social, vocational and spiritual trauma.” This organization assesses the needs of each woman so that she receives a tailored plan for recovery and counseling services.

Depending on a victim’s background, Amirah accounts for spiritual recovery as an important part in the healing process. This allows survivors to choose the care they wish to seek, depending on their distinct needs. If faith-based providers like Amirah were not available to human trafficking survivors, women would have less options in selecting a program that could provide spiritual counseling. Without partnerships with diverse organizations, including faith-based providers, the government would have a challenging time meeting the whole-person needs of human trafficking survivors. Therefore, government should continue to uphold policies that allow faith-based organizations such as Amirah to serve in distinct ways. Government should also continue seeking out the best providers of services, whether they are faith-based or secular, when it looks to provide funding. Government does not have the right to use their authority limitlessly in selecting one type of care for survivors. The CPJ government guideline confirms the right roles and responsibilities of government in relationship to non political groups and individual citizens. Humans have God-given responsibilities, which may be a faith conviction to serve the vulnerable. This is important because in a public justice framework, government cannot privilege secularism or one religion over another. If one individual for example wants to choose spiritual counseling as part of a care program, she should not be limited or dictated to in her options due to a lack of governmental support for diverse organizations.

Through its training program, Amirah prevents individuals in the local community from living in modern-day slavery. Amirah’s team communicates to the local community “how to identify a trafficking victim … [and] how the trafficking industry works” to inspire action and assistance for survivors and those still enslaved. This is especially significant because Amirah’s outreach leader, Cheri Crider, was a victim of human trafficking and is now dedicated to advocacy. Cheri personally “knows both the heartache and the triumphs of healing from trauma” and has developed “curricula to protect vulnerable youth from exploitation.” The government does not have the ability to establish the same, meaningful common ground for restorative relationships with victims. Therefore, it is important that government support diverse organizations like Amirah in their freedom to offer spiritually-integrated, personalized care. In a public justice framework, it is crucial for government to acknowledge roles and responsibilities of groups and organizations such as Amirah to serve their local community. Without their unique mission, outreach for survivors of human trafficking would not address some of our most important spiritual and cultural needs as humans.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army aims to address the human rights violations of human trafficking in response to their calling from Christ to meet human needs. The Salvation Army has partnerships with “local law enforcement, FBI, ICE, and numerous other community partners to identify, rescue, and restore victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation.” This organization engages both legislative efforts and public education efforts to combat human trafficking.

The Salvation Army’s anti-human trafficking program consists of a “response team to victims … [and] education and training … and participates in partnering anti human trafficking agencies to offer the best services to survivors.” The Salvation Army recognizes that education efforts are key in preventing human trafficking. This organization raises awareness to educate susceptible women about how to avoid falling into pimps’ traps. The Salvation Army’s Emergency Trafficking Program provides distinctive care by accounting for “both foreign and domestic victims of all ages and ethnicities.” This is important because these individuals will have different needs depending on their linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Culture influences our deepest values, which is why it is so important for cultural sensitivity to be included when providing comprehensive care for survivors.

The Salvation Army is dedicated to providing for human needs through a faithful conviction that “the abuse and exploitation of human beings through any form of human trafficking is an offense against humankind and against God.” The Salvation Army operates under a mission to move every individual “from a state of victimized enslavement to God-centered self-sufficiency.” Staff believe they have a God-given responsibility to care for those who have been abused. The team at the Salvation Army is passionate about ensuring survivors have access to the quality of life God intended.

Conclusion

Human trafficking is a complex and pervasive issue in America today. Organizations with varied animating beliefs should be able step into their distinct roles by bringing in community awareness and action against such a devastating problem. Faith-based organizations such as Exodus Cry, Amirah Boston and the Salvation Army are dedicated to improving human life and upholding human dignity. Survivors receive holistic, spiritually informed, restorative care from these distinct organizations. Such distinct care gives survivors the opportunity to integrate back into society.

These kind of diverse organizations should be allowed to continue in combating human trafficking because their services are rooted in a deep, faith-based sense purpose, which greatly strengthens how they work toward their mission. If survivors cannot choose the care they need for spiritual or cultural needs, they will not receive the essential holistic healing required to find freedom and empowerment after such trauma. Government should also use its authority to support the place-based organizations that have a strong understanding of their local communities, and can more effectively offer direct assistance because they are aware of available resources.

Human trafficking cannot be stopped by government alone, and organizations and groups cannot fulfill their responsibility to serve without government providing the space for them to do so. Therefore, it is essential that faith-based providers, community organizations and government all work together to end modern-day slavery.

Andrea Rice is a student at Westmont College and a former intern with the Center for Public Justice.