When I first started working in trafficking prevention in Thailand about 6 years ago, the scene here looked like a plethora of disparate organizations working in their tiny spheres of influence, with little to no communication between them. Over the years, the scene has changed dramatically. The greatest change came with a collaborative effort between the Royal Thai Police, international law enforcement agencies (including the FBI, Homeland Security), and a local NGO, The HUG Project (now the ACT Center), to build cases to apprehend and prosecute traffickers, rescue victims, and provide aftercare services to survivors.
Now those efforts are expanding to build similar networks between law enforcement agencies and local NGOs in other cities like Pattaya and Phuket, or as Nvader does in Bangkok.
How did these networks come about?
While forward thinking government officials had been instrumental in giving the impetus and go-ahead to begin these projects, the truth is these projects grew out of friendships: friendships between police officers who knew which partners they could trust, between police officers and social workers who knew they could trust each other to have the victims’ best interests at heart and to fight corruption, and between NGO leaders like Boom Bean at the ACT Center and The Freedom Story’s Tawee Donchai—knowing that we had the same interests, the same values, and the same commitment to best practices. Out of friendships developed trust, from trust came collaboration, and from collaboration, strength in numbers.
As Carter Quinley from Nvader says, “It takes a network to fight a network.”
It takes victims trusting authorities enough to come forward and give witness to what they’ve experienced. It takes the trust between social workers and legal authorities, and it takes the trust the public bestows upon those on the frontline sharing knowledge from the field to push for the best policy responses.
It is a bit like the parable about the three blind men encountering an elephant. One grabs the tail and says it is like a snake. One touches the elephant’s side and says it is like a wall. One feels the elephant’s leg and declares it like a tree. We each have our own piece and our own perspective, but it takes us working together to confront the beast.
It only works through trust; we could not do it alone.
Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The Freedom Story. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara in 2010, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness. She is half American, and half Thai.