Future of Feminism: Say No to Human Trafficking

A couple weeks ago, I posted about some of the many great organizations that support sex workers’ rights. I intentionally focused on sex workers who entered the industry for reasons “falling somewhere on a spectrum between choice and circumstance.” I wanted to emphasize how we can advocate and care for sex workers, while leaving aside, for once, the debate over whether sex work is inherently bad for women.

Today I shift my focus to human trafficking, about which there is little debate–it is unequivocally bad for its victims. Two things separate trafficking from sex work. One, trafficking isn’t always about sex; the majority of cases are about labor. Two, all people trafficked for the purposes of sex or labor are either coerced or recruited with false promises.

Labor trafficking also has gendered dimensions, explains Kay Buck, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). Its victims are often subject to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Moreover, many trafficked women have escaped some form of gendered violence or discrimination in their country of origin, so they can end up trapped between a rock and hard place when faced with the threat of deportation–which can deter them from going to authorities for help.

Like many other groups that work with trafficking victims, CAST is deeply involved in legislative advocacy, such as the campaigning that helped ensure SB 1569 — a bill that provides immediate access to social services for victims of human trafficking prior to their federal certification–was signed into law in 2006. But what makes CAST unusual are its long-term services for survivors, which last an average of 18-24 months. That’s approximately how long it takes to “to help someone reach a level of independence and self-sufficiency,” says Buck. Due to this long-term model, CAST is able to “develop a report and a strong, trusting relationship with [its] clients.” In turn, many former clients join CAST’s Survivor Advisory Caucus and counsel CAST on its work.

CAST is just one of several anti-trafficking organizations that blend advocacy and victim aid. The Polaris Project, home to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center–a toll-free 24/7 hotline–also provides an impressive quantity of  resources, support, and testimony to help trafficking victims and their advocates. In the past year alone, Polaris has informed 18 state-level anti-trafficking bills and trained more than 20,000 people how to recognize and correctly respond to instances of presumed human trafficking, among many other achievements.

The survivor-founded GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) focus on rebuilding the lives of young women and girls (12-24) who have escaped trafficking. GEMS also provides much-needed visibility to issue of sex and labor trafficking, such as the eye-opening documentary Very Young Girls, co-produced with filmmaker David Schisgall:

There are, of course, many other regional, national and international programs devoted to stopping human trafficking, including the Atlanta Human Trafficking Project, Californians Against Sexual Exploitation, Not for Sale, Tiny Hands International, and Truckers Against Human Trafficking. These groups may vary in their size, scope and approach to the subject, but one aim unites them all–to protect the safety, and uphold the dignity, of all trafficked women, men and children.

To me, these goals represent one of the foundations of feminism: that every person should be free from oppression and harassment–free to choose how to lead their life.

Read More:


Aviva Dove-Viebahn is an assistant professor of film and media studies at Arizona State University and a contributing editor for Ms.' Scholar Writing Program.