Awareness raising is a necessary, but insufficient component of real trafficking prevention.
Raising awareness that trafficking exists, how it happens, and how you can protect yourself is a critical way to help prevent trafficking. In many communities, people might not be aware of not just the concept of trafficking, but also what their human and legal rights are. They may be unaware of what they’re entitled to, as compensation for their labor, what kinds of protections they can and should be afforded, or even that this kind of thing is exploitation. When trafficking looks like a choice you have to make to get the things you need to survive, you might not see yourself as a victim. When trafficking looks like sharing something intimate with someone you believe is a trustworthy partner, you might not realize how you’ve put yourself at risk. When a 15 year old girl engages in a relationship with an older man, it might take a long time before she realizes that he is actually a predator.
Why Awareness is Insufficient
Learning about how these situations can actually lead to abuse and exploitation is essential. But it’s often not enough. Even people who know about trafficking might still end up trafficked, either because they never believed it would really happen to them, or like in the examples above, they still thought they could trust the person who ended up their trafficker, or sometimes, they really do see no other choice when their survival is at stake.
What Prevention Really Entails
The major risk factors–poverty, lack of education, and social exclusion–are the root causes that have to be addressed, to really get at prevention. When people are desperate economically, they are more willing to accept risk for the things they or their families need. Economic security is a buffer against taking on risky situations. The sex industry can be incredibly lucrative, especially compared to other jobs that only pay minimum wage. For people tired of struggling for too little reward, it can become an enticing lure.
Education is also a critical factor. Not only does higher education lead to better paying jobs, and thus reducing the lure of a quick buck, it also helps people develop the critical thinking skills and wider world view to better assess how risky a situation is. For many of our students whose parents never completed even their primary education, their parents are unequipped to help guide their children in navigating difficult life questions. As the children step further into experiences the parents never had, the children become more alone. This plays out most prominently as children are spending more and more time online, and on their phones. Parents in these communities feel unease about how much time is spent online, but they aren’t tech savvy enough to pinpoint what to worry about or how to set appropriate limits. Guidance from a trusted mentor, like the staff at The Freedom Story, is really important for helping children and their parents adapt to a quickly changing world.
Finally, social exclusion–whether brought on by law, for example with statelessness, or by culture, for example, when families reject LGBTQ youth, or by trauma, for example with children who come from abusive homes and have never gotten the help they need–leaves people with few places to turn to. If there is no legal way to earn money, people have no choice but to turn to illegal means. If people have not experienced what real love is, and are starved for love, it’s no wonder when they accept something exploitative that just looks like love.
For all these reasons, we believe prevention is deep work. It’s addressing poverty so people have real choices. It’s providing access to education so people are empowered to make better informed choices. It’s providing love, guidance, and support so no one ever feels that they have to face this world alone, but instead feel a strong foundation from which to thrive. To us, this is what it means to be free.