“We were so shocked to learn about the horrors of sex trafficking,” began the email from a well-meaning American church group, “and we’d like to come visit your project for a week to help unshackle women from brothels.”
I sat back in my office chair, confused—for one, because the anti-trafficking project I managed in rural Cambodia didn’t work in brothels. At all. And even if we did, I wondered why this group thought we’d allow strangers to leap into highly skilled and potentially dangerous work.
Their story isn’t unfamiliar. Human trafficking tends to stir strong emotions and impassioned desires for people to respond—which is a good thing, because it’s a crisis that cannot be addressed by a few. The fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, human trafficking enslaves anywhere between 21 million and 45.8 million men, women, and children around the world for the purpose of forced labour or commercial sexual activity.
With recent media attention and anti-slavery campaigns shedding light on an otherwise insidious issue, it’s natural that volunteers are eager to help. End Slavery Now currently lists over 500 anti-trafficking organizations with volunteer opportunities ranging anywhere between two-week commitments to more than a year.
Unfortunately, the capacity to care doesn’t translate to an ability to navigate the complexity of anti-trafficking work. This is especially the case when working directly with survivors emerging from exploitation. Yet, this is often the focal point for would-be volunteers. They want to meet survivors and hear their stories, lavish victims with gifts, walk through Red Light Districts, or participate in rescue operations.
While some agencies do facilitate opportunities like these, many question their effectiveness. Survivors have endured intense trauma and abuse, sometimes by trusted family members or friends. Can a volunteer really provide the level of support survivors need, especially in the short-term?
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in Verge Magazine. To read the full article, go here>>