20 Dec Addressing the Root Causes of Human Trafficking
Systemic Failures Behind Human Trafficking
The burden of abuse experienced by trafficking victims is both psychological and physical, creating cycles of exploitation and poverty passed generation to generation. Several systemic issues perpetuate human trafficking in the United States among American-born and immigrant victims: exploitation of foster youth and runaways; leveraging the desperation of those in poverty; manipulation of those desiring American citizenship; lack of resources for vulnerable populations to obtain and retain self-sufficiency; targeting those who have suffered other types of abuse/neglect in the past; preying on our universal need for belonging.
The barriers survivors encounter as they exit the life are layered, so the solutions need to be as well. Immediate aftercare services are a must—trauma support, temporary shelter, addressing legal issues, etc. Once survivors are stable enough to look outward, their needs change. Empower Her Network exists to address a national gap in services identified by immediate aftercare providers: most trafficking survivors exhaust available resources without a realistic economic alternative, putting them at high risk of re-trafficking and homelessness.
When survivors enter EHN’s program, they are living below the poverty line and sustainable housing is out of reach due to bad credit/no credit and financial obligations like security deposits. It’s a critical juncture: independence is possible, but barriers abound. How do you save money for a security deposit and last month’s rent when you’re living paycheck to paycheck? How do you get a steady wage job without references and gaps in your resume? Survivors need advocacy and temporary financial support surrounding housing, education, and employment. Without this graduated service offering, many survivors cycle through the same immediate aftercare programs over and over. It is the most expensive way to not solve a problem.
Empower Her Network’s local, trauma-informed advocates collaborate with nominees on an “Empowerment Plan” spanning 12 to 18 months that tackle the root causes of trafficking and end generational cycles of poverty and exploitation. While each plan is unique, the goal is always the same: achieve fiscal independence through advocacy, housing solutions, financing education, and focusing on a career path.
The advocacy, growth mindset, and affirmation provided by EHN’s trauma-informed advocates is a key catalyst in survivors reaching their Empowerment Plan goals:
- Sussing out viable career paths
- Creating a budget and teaching fiscal best practices
- Advising/researching financial aid/scholarship opportunities and applications
- Navigating housing voucher programs, acting as a reference, liaising with landlords on philanthropic exceptions to credit minimums, and preparing for tenant interviews
- Establishing time frames and accountability for survivor goals
- Sharing a strengths-based approach to self-worth and encouraging expansion of the survivors’ inner circle for future support
Securing stable housing is the top priority for most survivors. Many nominations are prompted because residential/shelter housing is expiring/has expired and the survivor has bad or no credit, no savings, and no experience navigating complex urban housing markets. Until a person is in a safe living situation, it is difficult (especially with children) to focus on the next steps of achieving fiscal independence. EHN focuses on establishing housing in the survivor’s name to solve the root cause of the problem moving forward. The network’s housing solutions include 1+ of the following:
- Covering security deposit/last month rent to overcome financial hurdles in securing a first apartment a survivor can otherwise afford
- Purchasing necessary household essentials such as beds, basic cookware, etc.
- In rare instances, EHN covers temporary rent as an economic empowerment tool. For example, if there is a promising vocational program the survivor can’t afford to take advantage of, the network will cover rent for a set and predetermined amount of time.
EHN seeks aid wherever possible to avoid overlapping resources. In many circumstances, tuition is covered, so a large portion of expenses tied to education falls under advocacy. But barriers to take advantage of education/vocation/certification opportunities doesn’t stop with tuition. EHN funds needs such as:
- Covering the delta between aid and tuition for employed survivors
- Paying for a promising vocational path when no aid available
- When a survivor has a full scholarship but needs support with expenses, EHN pays for things like used books, registration fees, and commuter passes
- EHN will temporarily cover childcare if it stands in the way of a survivor taking advantage of a promising training/education/vocational opportunity.
Many survivors come to Empower Her Network working one or two full-time, minimum wage jobs. Tying up 80 hours a week to barely cover basic expenses holds survivors hostage in the poverty spiral. Advocates spend a substantial amount of time working with members on improving their immediate job situation to a steady-wage opportunity. Increasing hourly wages frees up time so that survivors can take advantage of training/vocation/education opportunities that open up promising career paths. While the majority of career work falls under advocacy, EHN funds things like:
- Buying a required uniform
- Investing in equipment or materials that allows the survivor to leverage their skills and start a business (i.e., seamstress)
- Professional fees (i.e., annual dues for a newly licensed realtor)
Now in its sixth year, it can be said with certainty: the program works. To date, all alumni have secured stable housing and an average annual wage increase of $8,792 (from $18,015 to $26,807). This is often only the beginning; many survivors graduate as they complete an education, vocation, or certification program with a more promising career path. The indirect impact of the program is also substantial: there are over 310+ children who now live above the poverty line in safe housing.
Members, as EHN calls active program participants, are in the driver’s seat of their Empowerment Plan. They develop their own program with advocate guidance, and EHN walks alongside them as it’s implemented. For many, it’s their first empowering experience. When members graduate from the program, they are ready to tackle future barriers independently.