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Human Trafficking Awareness Month

By Hunter Beckstrom | Prevention and Sexual Exploitation Specialist at SVJI @MNCASA

Each year many SARTs have the opportunity to build awareness and host community events during the month of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This engagement bridges connections between system professionals and their local community while often times providing much needed education on such topics. Because these events and consciousness-raising can be so impactful, SARTs may want to consider uplifting other important campaigns.

Although your SART may not directly respond to those who have experienced trafficking or exploitation, no community – even in rural areas – is immune to such realities. For this reason, it is worth considering recognizing Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Since 2010, January has been designated as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in acknowledgement of those who have experienced different forms of trafficking.

While this recognition is crucial, it is necessary to understand how certain messaging around human trafficking can also be harmful. A quick search of “human trafficking” on Google will often produce countless terms of ‘modern-day slavery.’ Many governmental agencies and even non-profit organizations use this

language to represent human trafficking. Although intentions of the use of ‘modern-day slavery’ may be based in good faith, in reality, this label can be exploitative. Furthermore, although a select amount of survivors may identify their trafficking trauma as a type of ‘slavery’, this is certainly not applicable to all survivors’ experiences. Finally, equating trafficking and slavery – especially in the context of American history – erases institutionalized oppression and violence.
In a National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) blog post, Sarah Harrison outlines six harmful uses of modern-day slavery:

  1. Historical slavery never ended.
    The exploitation of primarily black and brown folks has continued in different forms of institutionalized practices through history. Examples include the area of Jim Crow and the current vast overrepresentation of incarcerated people of color.
  2. Historical slavery was legal; human trafficking is not.
    Slavery was an institutionalized practice based upon race whereas trafficking is not a sanction by the state.
  3. There is nothing modern about this form of exploitation.
    Exploitation has fueled the development of what is now considered the United States. The forced relocation, exploited labor, and violence upon BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) populations is a historical fact.
  4. Slavery (in this American context) is based on race; exploitation is based in rape culture and socially constructed risk factors.
    Although both slavery and exploitation have been traumatically normalized, exploitation is grounded within societal risk factors that push and pull people into such experiences.
  5. Using terms for shock value.
    The use of modern-day slavery intends to provoke an emotional response to gain a momentum of action. While it is important to rally around astonishing issues, one must understand the historical trauma attached to this harmful language.
  6. There isn’t consistency.
    We don’t have an agreed upon definition of what is considered to be modern-day slavery.

For those interested in further details, please visit NSVRC’s blog here. SARTs have a great opportunity to bring recognition to January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month while also educating upon harmful messages surrounding this experience.

If you have additional questions, reach out to us at svji@mncasa.org.