Tackling Human Trafficking

Here at Reboot, we’re honoured to be partnering with Safe Horizon, a preeminent service agency for trafficked persons* in New York City. Over the coming months, we’ll be working with Safe Horizon to design and deliver materials about their support services to trafficking survivors — and developing tools to measure their impact.

Victims of trafficking are often hard to reach — which is why we’ve been called in to help identify key opportunities for impact. We will be building upon a strong history and existing body of work. The anti-trafficking community, in the US and globally, has been highly creative in its efforts to support these isolated populations.

We recently hosted a workshop for Safe Horizon and desigNYC to explore the complex challenges around reaching and serving trafficked persons and learned a great deal about the vast challenge before us:

NYC is a hub of trafficking activity.

While many may imagine human trafficking happening only in other countries, NYC is a top destination for trafficked persons both domestically and internationally. Safe Horizon estimates there are between 300,000 and 1 million trafficked persons within the United States. Our city is a logical hub for trafficking because of its substantial immigrant population, large runaway and homeless youth population, and its position as an international travel center.

The demographics are diverse and complex.

Similar to popular misconceptions about where trafficking occurs, many misunderstandings exist about victims of trafficking themselves. Survivors are male, female, and transgender; they are of every age (some are children) and of every ethnic origin. While sex trafficking typically receives more media attention, Safe Horizon has found that 60 percent of their population have been trafficked for labour. Victims can originate from within NYC as well as from other countries.

Isolating conditions pose deep obstacles to intervention.

•  Survivors of trafficking often accept their circumstances as normal, not knowing that it is against the law or that services exist to aid them. Further, trafficked persons, many of whom are foreign nations, are often mistrustful of institutions that may be able to help them, based on negative experiences with government, police, or service providers in their home countries.

•  And for victims who have come to the these shores to pursue the American Dream, helping them see the ways that this dream is elusive — and perhaps unattainable as a trafficking victim — is a difficult path to navigate.

•  Moreover, many are in situations with little to no privacy, where their personal belongings are monitored and their movements controlled, limiting the types of effective outreach strategies. Others may not be literate, either in their native language or English, and are thus limited in their ability to seek help or understand outreach materials.

Given these myriad challenges, Reboot now begins to dig deep and ask the hard questions: how can we reach such a diverse and often inaccessible population? And once we reach them, how can we help victims of trafficking — many who are resigned to their situations — gain the means to exit their situations? And how do we overcome deep distrust of public or civil society institutions, which originate from many different sources?

From embedding information within non-suspect religious paraphernalia to covertly communicating information in the few places victims are allowed unsupervised, such as beauty salons, this community has devised innovative ways to tackle a tough challenge. Building upon past successes, Reboot looks forward to continuing to support Safe Horizon in its anti-trafficking work. We’ll keep you posted as we tackle this pressing issue.


*The field of anti-trafficking is unresolved on the best term to describe those who are or have been involved in human trafficking circles. Some choose ‘victim,’ others use ‘survivor,’ others still prefer to speak more specifically about their relationship to these people. (Safe Horizon, for example, prefers the term ‘client’, which speaks to its service provider-client relationship.) Reboot does not pretend to be an expert on trafficking issues and is still navigating the limitations of language to describe this sensitive and nuanced space.

Futher reading.