7 Ways Your Organization Could Be Re-exploitating Survivors

I have seen so many organizations unintentionally take advantage and re-exploit survivors in this movement. I wanted to give a couple tips or common sense ideas for advocates out there working with survivors of human trafficking.

  1. Re-Exploitation. The Websters defines exploitation as: 

How can organizations do this unintentionally?

I was asked once why we use the word “re-exploitation” and not “take advantage of” – that somehow using that term can seem extreme and exaggerating.

After much thought and prayer on the use of this word, I had two thoughts:

  • if organizations are informed of the “dos & don’ts” of the etiquettes of having a survivor speak at their event, then they continue to take advantage, that is exploitation.

  • The other thought, I think the most important, is that in an arena where we are working with exploited persons. We find this “crime” heinous and punishable by law, for a trafficker. We need to be equally as extreme how organizations can do the very same thing. To use the very word that we use to end and abolish modern-day slavery shows the severity of what organizations can do to a survivor. 

So, let’s lay down a few tips on etiquette and in my opinion, common sense when working with people in general, especially those who are survivors of human trafficking: (Do I need to write, “in my opinion?” this is all my opinion, it’s my blog…lol)

  1. HONOR—When you want a survivor to come share her personal story with a crowd in order to help YOUR organization raise funds, promote your organization, or whatever the reason for you holding an event, it would seem unethical to not honor this survivor and her time and experience that she brings that NO ONE else will bring. How does that look? One way to show honor is by providing compensation. If budget is limited, then talk to the survivor upfront about what you can provide, but simply ignoring or expecting her to want to work for free because she now has freedom is wrong. An honorarium is simply that, honoring time, experience and what the survivor brings that no one else can.

If a trafficker makes a girl work all night and then takes all her money; how can we not see the similarities by having her speak about those experiences in order to raise your organization money and then you take it all and not offer her anything. Both scenarios are very, very similar. Especially, since both scenarios would not have received the funds without her.

Simply put:

“Go work, give me the money”- trafficker

“Go speak, give me the money” – organization

  • Another way to show honor is by treating the survivor exactly the same as any other professional you have in attendance. If you are reading a bio for the introduction of other speakers, include your survivor in that. If you are providing meals and per diem expenses for other professionals, include your survivor in that. Basically, treat your survivor like any other professional; no more, no less.
  • Last, but certainly not least, you honor people by valuing them and their input. If your organization is fortunate enough to have a Survivor to share their insight, listen to them! Their opinions, input, ideas, and suggestions are valuable. Do not discredit what they have to say, or demean their input based on a possible lack of a degree. My education came from the game, and if that’s what the organization is trying to break into, I would have a Masters, okay??

2. NOT FOLLOWING THROUGH—If an organization asks a survivor to come share her/his story and offers to reimburse expenses (gas, hotel, food, etc) but then the survivor only receives partial reimbursement. Does that seem fair in any business setting, to not hold to the agreement? Maybe this happening SO frequently that survivors now require signed contracts, or send specific invoices for full payment reimbursement. I’ve had organizations get offended by this, but when the agreement is not met, what other professional business means do we have to use?

3. TOKENISM—Every organization wants and needs a survivor. Not only does it help in showing the reality of the facts that can often get regurgitated, but ONLY survivors can truly understand what is happening in the dark world of human trafficking. Their insight is paramount to an organization being successful. She is not your token “arm charm” – she has been that long enough! A survivor is more than his/her story. They are a person with talents, abilities, and skills beyond their testimony and deserve to be treated as such.

4. Any form of Sexual Harassment is inappropriate in any workplace, and even more so in human trafficking. Don’t make jokes or remarks that are lined with sexual innuendos. That behavior would not be acceptable in a normal workplace so why would one assume speaking to a survivor as anything LESS than a colleague is acceptable?

5. BELITTLEMENT in any form is not the way any good leader of an organization would treat ANY person working with and helping them grow. So why does it seem so common with survivors? I could list a million examples, but before you act or speak, whether privately or publicly, ask yourself “would I say or do this to any other employee?” Belittling those under you is not the quality of a good leader.

6. PROMOTE—when you lift others up, it actually promotes you. We talk a lot about creating sustainability for survivors, but does your organization actually do that? You may have an amazing program that will help survivors become self-sufficient and economically empowering. However, have you created a livable wage for the survivor leader working with you now? Are you being faithful in the little you’ve been given now?

If your survivor has a published book, do you promote it for them? Do you talk about it during presentations? Have you liked or followed the survivor on social media and shared accomplishments and places she is going and doing? Have you suggested the survivor you work with as a trainer for community agencies that contact your organization for training? Promoting people and helping them create sustainability shows that you’re actually walking the talk and makes others want to invest in what you’re doing because your organization is dependable.

7. FORCE—What would you expect an organization to do if a survivor said she wasn’t comfortable training/teaching/speaking at an event the organization requested of her? I’m not talking about an employee… a volunteer. Since we are in THIS specific movement, wouldn’t we, as a caring organization, talk to the victim turned survivor about what is bothering him/her and maybe help find some healing or reach an agreement? If the survivor replies to your question to why they cannot attend with: “I can’t drive that far with no reimbursement” then clearly it isn’t an area of healing she needs, but sustainability. We can’t expect our survivors and their families to be financially burdened so that an organization can be promoted.

What you should NEVER do is remind the survivor of all the things you’ve done for her and all the past gifts or honorariums your organization has provided him. This is a very manipulative tactic and quite frankly a behavior employed by traffickers.

Can you think of other tips that organizations can learn so we can all work as allies and advocates together to prevent, rescue and restore victims of sex trafficking? List them in our facebook page so we can all learn together—after all, we’re all in this together, right?!?

Rebecca Bender is a nationally recognized and awarded expert on domestic sex trafficking. After escaping nearly six years of both labor and sex trafficking, she emerged as a Survivor Leader, providing consulting, training and speaking with some of the largest anti-trafficking groups and government agencies in the country, including FBI, Homeland Security , and former president Jimmy Carter. After writing her first book, Roadmap to Redemption, she founded the Rebecca Bender Initiative.