Supporting survivors of human trafficking through collaboration and community experts

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of everyone in King County, the United States and around the world. National and local leaders have encouraged individuals to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect themselves and their communities. The pandemic has caused major economic disruptions, disconnected many from community resources and support systems, and created uncertainty. Such conditions have also unsurprisingly exacerbated risk factors and created new challenges to many vulnerable groups, particularly survivors of human trafficking.

According to the anti-trafficking group Polaris, the number of crisis human trafficking cases handled by the National Human Trafficking Hotline show a 40 percent increase in the month following many shelter-in-place orders that were instituted back in early 2020. In addition, the number of situations in which people needed immediate emergency shelter nearly doubled (from around 29 cases in Feb. 14th – March 15th, 2020 to 54 in April 2020).

Most importantly, the pandemic has brought to the forefront the systemic and deeply entrenched economic and societal inequalities that are among the root causes of human trafficking, leading people who may have already been targeted to find themselves in an even more vulnerable situation.

The increase in cases handled by the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the impacts of the pandemic highlight that now more than ever human trafficking survivors need community support. Here in King County we are dedicated to increasing coordination between government agencies and community organizations, supporting community experts and bringing awareness to human trafficking resources in order to protect every member of our community.

Local service coordination

In 2006, a multi-disciplinary survivor-centered task force, called Washington Advisory Committee on Trafficking (WashACT) was created by the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. The taskforce convenes members of the Seattle Police Department’s High Risk Survivors Unit, International Rescue Committee in Seattle and representatives of many federal, state and local organizations including our Department of Community and Human ServicesAdult Services Division. WashACT works to ensure that survivors of trafficking receive the systems- and community-based supports that they need through a strong network of government and non-governmental agencies. WashACT and their community partners are widely relied upon to provide trauma-informed, survivor-centered response, training, and leadership, as well as comprehensive services to survivors in Washington State.

Coordinating and connecting local services from nonprofit organizations, government agencies and community groups ensures that survivors of human trafficking get the support that they need. Through this collaboration, organizations are aware of the services and expertise that is available to survivors at different organizations in King County, helping survivors to receive customized and efficient services.

If you are interested in learning more about WashACT and how service providers, law enforcement, practitioners and mobilization groups collaborate to improve response to human trafficking, you can attend one of WashACT’s quarterly information sessions. For more information contact: warntrafficking@yahoo.com.

Funding community-based experts

API Chaya, a longtime partner of King County that has been at the forefront of efforts to combat human trafficking for decades, is funded through the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL) to  provide an interdisciplinary approach to serving people in the sex trade, especially those who are vulnerable to, or have experienced, human trafficking.

One of the major components of API Chaya’s work is healing community through community. API Chaya increases leadership pathways and community organizing for survivors of sex trafficking and sexual assault by hiring human trafficking survivors –to help build community, conduct outreach and provide education for other human trafficking survivors. This work is done with an understanding of the cultural norms and stigmas associated with such violence and promotes the inherent strength and potential of communities to facilitate positive change to an equitable world free of violence and oppression.

API Chaya also provides multilingual outreach to workers in massage parlors, sex workers on online channels, and other groups vulnerable to trafficking, connecting with them and letting them know about available services.

Services for survivors of human trafficking

Visit watraffickinghelp.org for a list of services that are available to human trafficking survivors in King County and Washington.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline has toll-free phone and SMS text lines and live online chat function are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Help is available in English or Spanish, or in more than 200 additional languages through an on-call interpreter.

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