Pregnancy resource centers have a unique opportunity to fight the injustice of human trafficking. Most pregnancy centers have policy manuals that specify how volunteers and staff treat clients, guests and one another. They provide protocols to support women as they choose life in unplanned or crisis pregnancy situations. Some may even have a section about how to communicate with donors. Does yours address the needs of trafficking victims?
Human trafficking happens by force, fraud, or coercion all over the globe. The particular category of trafficking in persons varies. Agricultural areas may see more labor trafficking. Areas with a lot of entertainment and sports industry might see more sex trafficking. Wealthy areas might see more domestic trafficking. That is not to say that any form is exclusive or segregated. Child sex trafficking happens everywhere as well.
Traffickers may want their victims to continue pregnancy, so they have more control over them, so they will not escape, so they have a new generation of slaves, or to manipulate them into believing the trafficker cares about their life. Here are some suggestions of policy concerns that pregnancy resource centers might want to adopt.
Conduct intakes one-on-one
A trafficking victim lacks autonomy. She may have a handler. If there is a potential for language barriers in your area, recruit a volunteer or staff member who can do the intake or interpret. Allowing a client to bring their own "comforter" seems caring, but it is often very hard to tell if they are actually an advocate or a handler. We always want to care for them. One on one is the safest way to do that. Providing for their confidentiality and safety are equally important.
Make yourself aware
Pregnancy resource centers can be aware and on the lookout for victims using the OATS format. You already do these things. With the mindset that this woman might be a victim, you might put things together that might be missed alone. Red flags may mean nothing. If you see enough of them, it is important to go to the next step.
• Observe for signs of abuse
• Assess the client for clues of inconsistency
• Talk with them about their situation
• Suspect trafficking if they have any red flags, especially a handler
Designate a specific person to speak with at-risk clients
Ensure there is someone available to be responsible for evaluating the risk to the woman who can decide how to proceed. This will probably be the director. They may casually direct them to brochures about trafficking, leaving it to them to discover whether their situation fits. They might ask the questions directly and be equipped to find a safe-house. Each situation will be different and will dictate the appropriate actions. These are people and must be dealt with as unique individuals with dignity at all times.
Add the topic your regular preventative conversation
Find resources that fit your demographics and the expectations of your clients. Posters and brochures should be in languages common to your area. Depending on where you are, the language and culture of the visuals you post should reflect the culture of your clients in order to connect with them. We want to care for them in everything we do. Brochures or business cards are available with helplines or anonymous tip-lines. A simple statement of, “This happens” is appropriate. We can present the topic of trafficking in the same way domestic violence is discussed.
Build rapport with conversation
Be careful not to do all the talking. This sounds obvious but when we see a person in trouble, it's easy to forget. We might see problems they cannot. If they feel safe, you won’t be able to convince them otherwise, therefore use open-ended questions. Letting them take the bulk of the conversation may reveal problems too. Ask if you're understanding correctly by rephrasing and repeating what they’ve said. Then, hopefully, they will hear it.
Always respect “No”
If a woman is clearly being manipulated and you have no doubt that she is in a trafficking situation, but she is an adult and feels safe, respect her autonomy. You might be the only one who will. In this case, let her come to herself. Offer help, but then do not try to force her into anything. Letting her decide may be the seed that will grow into a desire for freedom.
If she is a minor and refuses your help, you will have to decide whether or not to call a tip-line or another agency and make sure you have enough accurate information to do so. Depending on her age, level of competency, signs of abuse, degree of believability, and sense of danger, you might report your suspicion to local authorities or a national taskforce. Having a relationship with the proper authorities will really help in these cases. You will want to know what to expect and what is expected of your center.
Provide training for all volunteers
There are numerous organizations that provide manuals and live training is available too. Providing good training tools and making sure your volunteers are aware of mandatory reporting, what to look for, who to call, what not to say, and how best to care for victims of trafficking is super important. Caring for juvenile clients requires special precautions.
Post a list of local and national resources
Having national hotlines is good, but if immediate placement is needed, you might be at a disadvantage. Having local help is great, but if they need to be relocated for her safety, a national network will be better able to help. Assign a staff person or volunteer that task of updating this annually by calling or texting the numbers and going to the websites. A couple of hours of prevention may save a life or a couple of lives. Having documented knowledge of the resources in your area could be the difference between life and death.
Pregnancy resource centers serve vulnerable women across the country, preserving families and saving lives. Thank you!
Darlene Pawlik is a speaker and blogger at theDarlingPrincess.com. She also serves as VP for Savethe1.com. Conceived from rape, she survived child sexual abuse and juvenile sex trafficking, now married to one man for over 26 years, she raised five children.