"Before I joined the Youth Club, I didn't know what human trafficking was. I used to think that it was good. I have learned about safe migration, different forms of human trafficking, and how brokers can trick you," says Buavanh from Laos. Photo by Ammala Thomosith, World Vision
We all know the old saying ‘prevention is better than a cure’. We largely apply it to our own health and well-being, but it is equally true when tackling bigger, more sinister issues like human trafficking.
Increasingly our newspapers and social media newsfeeds are filled with stories of survivors being rescued from dangerous and degrading situations of exploitation. Just a few days ago the New York Times ran a critically important story on the disturbing experiences of men trafficked into the fishing industry. And I am sure today will be no exception as we mark World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. As an advocate against these injustices, I am thrilled that this horrific issue is gradually getting more of the attention it deserves. Drawing attention to the harrowing stories of these brave survivors is vital to raising international awareness and ensuring global action for Governments, businesses and individuals.
But stories such as this only tell part of the bigger picture. Trafficking prevention sadly doesn’t get the attention that I think it deserves – yet it is critically important to ending trafficking.
It is understandable that the personal narrative from survivors cuts deeper than the programmatic responses and interventions laid out by technical experts in their field and subsequently gets more attention. But once we become aware of the circumstances that trafficking survivors face, we not only need to ask “what is being done to remove them from those circumstances?”, but also “what is being done to stop this happening in the first place”?
Shockingly it is likely that a person who is most likely to become victim to traffickers, has already been trafficked before. This clearly demonstrates that removing them from a situation of exploitation is not the solution that sadly so many organisations present it to be. Whilst the story of suffering and subsequent ‘rescue’ may generate the media attention, without deliberate, tailored and targeted interventions to address the issues that made that person vulnerable to trafficking in the first place, as well as dealing with the trauma caused by their ordeal, survivors can be left at as much risk (if not more so) than before they were first trafficked.
Human trafficking is a uniquely complex issue. It is a challenge to global development, sustainability and economic growth and prosperity, which is further compounded by its illicit nature. Widely considered the world’s second largest crime behind the illegal drugs trade, it happens ‘underground’ and is not always easily identifiable. Therefore interventions to respond to cases of trafficking can only reach those people and places where abuses have been recognised, or where survivors have felt protected enough to come forward and report crimes.
Prevention activities have proven to be highly successful in reducing vulnerability. We know from World Vision’s own research that young people in the greater Mekong sub-region who had participated in a children’s and youth club were more likely to have heard of human trafficking and to be aware of the risk being trafficked by someone known to them. We also know that creating opportunities for increasing adult wages by increasing access to employment or other ways of generating a more sustainable income, such as raising animals to sell can help reduce the circumstances in which someone may be motivated to take a risky opportunity that may result in them being trafficked.
It is hard to put a number against how many people can be helped in this way. – No one can guess how a person’s life will turn out, or how they’ll be impacted by factors that can lead to human trafficking. But we do know that we can reduce the risk of vulnerability through carefully implemented prevention programs.
What I particularly love about World Vision’s anti-trafficking response is that it takes a holistic approach to ending trafficking. Prevention is one of the most critical foundational elements for reducing the occurrence of trafficking. But when trafficking does occur, World Vision also assists law enforcement in removing the survivors from those situations and works in partnership with other agencies to provide appropriate counselling, trauma-based recovery services and immediate shelter to those in need. Then providing longer-term interventions such as support to rebuild their lives and find ways of generating an income – reducing the likelihood of them becoming vulnerable to trafficking again.
So today of all days, whilst we take stock of the distressing statistics of this $150 billion industry that affects around 21 million people worldwide, let us stop for a second and be thankful for all of those other potential trafficking cases that were prevented before they happened. And then let’s take action to both prevent further cases as well as provide help and support for those suffering these injustices.