Kirsti Mouncey, LISW-S, LCDCIII Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, President & CEO
What images come to mind when you hear the words human trafficking? Maybe a young woman kidnapped and held captive by a stranger? Children forced to make clothing in a foreign country? Chains and truck stops?
This is often the way this crime is portrayed in the media and how we can compartmentalize that this human rights violation is rare in our society and can’t possibly be happening in our own back yards. What if I told you human trafficking happens in our communities, right under our noses? It is the single mother trying to make ends meet who is pressured into sex trafficking while working at a strip club. A domestic worker coerced into working 15-hour shifts, receiving no pay, no time off, and no living space of their own. A teenage boy betrayed by someone he trusted and forced into sexual exploitation under threats of harm to his family. The young girl sold for drugs or rent. In this guest post, I’d like to introduce readers to a broader discussion of human trafficking and offer resources on where to go to obtain more knowledge. All of this is in the spirit of exchanging resources and ideas towards the goal of ending and preventing human trafficking.
Human trafficking victims most often are individuals with vulnerabilities: runaways and homeless youth; Black and Brown women and girls; young people from the LGBTQI community; children in and out of the system with traumas of neglect and abuse; and those with substance abuse, mental health concerns, and disabilities. Traffickers target vulnerable populations who have little social or legal protection. Choosing victims from marginalized communities contributes to a minimized “risk” for traffickers. There is no community outrage when there is a perception that those harmed are frequently to blame for their circumstances.
Traffickers exploit their victims by using deception, fraud, manipulation, or coercion. They may offer things their victims need, such as shelter, food, clothing, protection, emotional support, or the false promise of love to lure them in. Many victims are trafficked by an intimate partner, friend, or even parent or guardian. Not all traffickers use violence but most do to strengthen the emotional bonds with victims that arise from a recurring, cyclical pattern of abuse perpetuated by irregular reinforcement through rewards and punishments (trauma bonds).
At its core, human trafficking is a financially motivated system of crime, all about exploiting humans for profit. Like other financial crimes, it involves a triangle of activity: supply, demand, and distribution. Human trafficking can include sex trafficking, labor trafficking, or a combination of the two. Forced labor, also referred to as “labor trafficking,” encompasses the range of activities involved when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to obtain the labor or services of another person. Sex trafficking encompasses the range of activities involved when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act or causes a child to engage in a commercial sex act. Both can happen to the same individual when they are exploited through forced labor and sexual activities by the same trafficker.
Few crimes are more detestable than human trafficking, and few crimes are more challenging for communities to confront. Yet, communities are beginning to take proactive action in identifying, responding to, and preventing human trafficking; Cleveland/Northeast Ohio being one of them.
As with other forms of violence considered to be a public health crisis, deeply rooted and connected to poverty and inequality, power and control; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a comprehensive frame work and multilevel approach to the prevention of human trafficking. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes multiple, complementary, evidence-based violence prevention strategies which are meant to be carried out across various systems and levels of organizations. The primary or universal tier involves creating environments and fostering skills in children that prevent victimization in the first place. The second tier focuses on identifying victims and offering early interventions to prevent further harm. The tertiary tier addresses long term support for those victimized. The complexity of this model makes it apparent that no single organization or system has the capacity or ability to handle all the aspects of responding to human trafficking alone. Each organization has abilities and limitations. For example, a school system might have a program for primary prevention but no intervention and treatment capabilities if a child discloses trafficking. While a law enforcement agency has immediate response capabilities to identify victims, it may lack long term service resources to link these victims to. Frequently, task forces or coalitions, such as Greater Cleveland Coordinated Response to Human Trafficking, convened by the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking here in Cleveland, are the catalysts for this collective impact. Through the creation of a network of member organizations, everyone involved in anti-human trafficking work can identify the capacity of the other members and work together to create a coordinated response and prevention system.
Collective action can go even further in preventing and comprehensively serving victims: the greater task is to collectively address the systemic challenges that human trafficking exhumes. This means working together to shift paradigms in each community about how marginalized populations are seen and treated, and addressing the root causes such as racism, poverty, and inequities. This also means leaving egos at the door, breaking down organizational and systemic silos, and digging deep into overarching discriminatory practices and policies.
Other avenues, equally important to consider, are the disruption of demand and supply such as through demand reduction efforts with the Five S’s framework: sanctioning soliciting, second chance schools (Johns Schools), sting and reverse sting operations, social media campaigns, and standards. Demand reduction efforts reduce the demand for trafficked sex and labor using prevention, treatment, and research. Supply reduction aims to make these illegal activities scarcer, more expensive, and less socially tolerated. Similar to US drug policy, hope lies in the combination of both demand reduction (law enforcement) and supply reduction (treatment, prevention and research) to also bring success to the efforts of eradicating human trafficking. More research and conversations are also needed about the men who buy sex and their motivations. Understanding that they are closer to sexual predators than “sexually frustrated, nice guys” could help identify the predictive ability of men at risk for purchasing sex.
And what about the treatment of sex traffickers charged with sexual offenses? Since traditional sexual offender treatment may not be appropriate due to the different motivation for committing the crime, is it possible to rehabilitate and prevent that way?
Regarding labor trafficking, efforts have been focused on monitoring the production processes in order to discourage businesses from engaging in or supporting this crime. Many goods are produced through exploitative labor, and the process is often concealed from purchasers. How do we shift the paradigm in what and how we purchase goods? How do we hold corporations accountable to ethically examine their operations and profits?
The reality of human trafficking is difficult to comprehend and it is even more difficult to envision a comprehensive prevention model that includes all approaches described above: the public health approach; supply, demand, and distribution; and bringing together all the systems necessary to tackle this complex problem: victim service organizations, law enforcement agencies, sex offender treatment providers, law and policy makers, researchers, and businesses and the financial sector. We all need to come together at the same table to put our collective impact into action.
The anti-trafficking community emphasizes that learning about these issues and collaborating to deliver a continued and improved response to combating trafficking are major considerations aimed at mitigating the impacts of this crises and guide the path forward. There is also a call and a need to incorporate anti-trafficking efforts into existing responses in other contexts. Everyone and every sector has a role to play in the fight against human trafficking.
I am leaving you with a call to action to do just that - learn more about human trafficking and incorporate what you have learned into to your sphere of influence, your context. For those of you already engaged in anti-human trafficking work or planning to do so in the future, my call to action for you is to apply equity based approaches and to relentlessly seek collaboration!
Anyone can join in the fight against human trafficking. Here are ideas to consider:
Learn more about national Human Trafficking Statistics, Indicators, Policy and Legislation:
Take a Human Trafficking Training or learn more about how to be an Advocate:
Be conscious of the power your purchase holds. Support companies committed to taking a stand against human trafficking. Be an informed consumer.
Volunteer with and support anti-human trafficking efforts in your community
Become a mentor to a young person or someone in need. As a mentor, you can be involved in new and positive experiences in that person’s life during a formative time.
Meet with and write your local, state and federal elected official to let them know you care about combating human trafficking and ask what they are doing to address it.
Be well-informed. Set up a web alert to receive current human trafficking news.
Encourage your local schools or school district to include human trafficking in their curricula and to develop protocols for identifying and reporting a suspected case of human trafficking or responding to a potential victim.
Parents and Caregivers: Learn how human traffickers often target and recruit youth and who to turn to for help in potentially dangerous situations. Host community conversations with parent teacher associations and community members regarding safeguarding children in your community.
Visit our website for more information and resources: www.collabtoendht.org
Kirsti Mouncey, LISW-S, LCDCIII currently serves as the President & CEO at the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, and is an experienced and innovative non-profit executive. Driven by a vision of a world fee of violence, she takes pride in driving organizational transformation and multisystemic collaboration. As a women with a vision, her goals include catalyzing enduring positive change, and identifying and strengthen existing assets in her community and beyond. In addition to her primary job functions Kirsti has been recognized by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center with the Visionary Voice Award in 2016 and was inducted into the as Case Western Reserve University Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences Hall of Achievements in 2017. Kirsti holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from Cleveland State University, and is a Licensed Independent Social Work Supervisor and a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor in the State of Ohio. She lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio with her husband, two sons, a goldendoodle and a hedgehog.