Economic Barriers Facing Survivors of Trafficking
As they work to rebuild their lives, survivors of traﬃcking often face significant economic barriers, leading to higher rates of unemployment and potential revictimization. These barriers can aﬀect survivors at any point in their journey, from immediately after they achieve freedom to many years down the line. Most survivors will need some form of financial assistance or help transitioning into a viable career. Coordinated legal, advocacy, and mutual aid eﬀorts to address economic barriers can have a huge impact on survivors’ ability to recover and thrive.
This post describes several economic hurdles survivors of traﬃcking can face — and what you can do to help.
Chronic and complex trauma wreaks havoc on a child’s mind, leading to conditions like PTSD, dissociative disorders, and others. These conditions can negatively affect a child’s education, especially if they experience amnesia due to their trauma or act out in class as a cry for help — resulting in lower grades that can greatly reduce their college and career prospects in adulthood.
Even as they pursue higher education, many survivors remain constantly on the run from their traﬃckers, needing to drop out of school to move cities or even states just to keep distance and protect themselves from the person or people who traumatized them. This unexplained leave of absence can be detrimental to transferring to another school, cost additional money in tuition, and leave the student without any option of returning to school.
As a survivor, I was revictimized during my third year of college and forced to leave school to prevent myself from being stalked by my traﬃcker’s accomplice. I’m not the only survivor with a story like this.
Similar situations can also happen when a survivor is settled into a career. If their traﬃcker reenters their life, they may need to quit their job and move just to keep themselves safe. This can be detrimental to long-term career goals.
Some survivors who are adults may not have a working visa, preventing them from getting a job in the country they were traﬃcked into. There are government programs to provide visas, but little information and support about them is available to most survivors. These programs need to be expanded.
Survivors of sex traﬃcking can have criminal records because of the acts they were forced to commit while being trafficked. If a survivor had to work the streets, they may have been picked up by police and charged for solicitation, despite being a victim. Some survivors are forced to harm or even kill their traﬃcker to escape or protect themselves, and often the survivor is the one punished.
Trafficking survivors are sometimes considered an accessory to their traﬃcker’s crimes. Several famous cases, especially against BIPOC survivors, have occurred in which survivors have been charged with the crimes of their traﬃckers or for their acts of self-defense. This even happens to children who are being traﬃcked.
We should advocate for legislation that decriminalizes the selling of sex, so fewer survivors of traﬃcking end up with unfair charges against them. We can also donate to nonprofit organizations that help expunge the criminal records of traﬃcking survivors.
Being a disabled person myself, I’ve experienced firsthand the challenges of living with a disability while trying to make ends meet. Survivors of traﬃcking often have complex physical or psychiatric disabilities that make it harder for them to work traditional jobs.
To support traﬃcking survivors and all disabled people, we can push for policies that extend disability benefits. We can also advocate for disabled people to be paid at least minimum wage, since it is currently legal to pay some disabled people below minimum wage.
Debt from traﬃckers
Traﬃckers will sometimes create debt in their victim’s name, by using the victim’s credit cards or stealing their identity. This can leave a victim with thousands of dollars to pay back, despite not being responsible for the purchases. Traﬃckers can also use the debt as a form of coercion, leaving victims vulnerable to more abuse — for example, needing to sell themselves for sex — to pay oﬀ the debt.
Debt relief programs for traﬃcking survivors do exist, but they need to be expanded. It’s also important to make survivors aware that relief programs like this do exist.
Lack of opportunities and support
Traﬃcking survivors are often on their own, with little family support and few social connections. It can be intimidating to suddenly need to survive on your own after going through such intense trauma, often without the same educational and career opportunities as your peers.
Comprehensive support for survivors includes economic support in addition to more traditional services like housing and trauma recovery. It’s also important to have options available for survivors who have been free for years but are still struggling with financial issues.
Providing direct economic opportunity — such as by hiring survivors in your business or nonprofit organization, or by providing job training to survivors — is the most beneficial way to help. Fair pay and career pathways with growth opportunities are absolutely essential, especially if you can place survivors in leadership positions. Oﬀering scholarships and educational opportunities to survivors is equally important. If you have the means, donating directly to survivors is another great form of support. Lastly, donating to a nonprofit organization that assists survivors is also helpful, especially if the organization is survivor led.
Calion Smith is a child sex trafficking survivor and an educator on the topic of dissociative identity disorder, a chronic mental health condition most often caused by severe childhood trauma.
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