Before You send them your money!
Human Trafficking is a “hot topic” in the social justice arena, and you’d have to have been living under a rock to not have heard some pretty incredible things about how you can join and “Fight Human Trafficking”. If you are considering supporting an anti trafficking organization and wonder how to make sure you are giving your support that falls in line with your vision of a better world.
Perhaps you are an ordinary person who is horrified at the idea of monetized sexual services? Maybe you were suddenly alerted to the subject of human trafficking at your church, on TV, or in a movie, and want to donate your time, talent, or treasure, to help someone who has fallen victim to this dreaded social disease.
In any of the above cases, you probably “just want to help” and you have the best of intentions. But before you write that check, hand out those flyers, or march in that rally, get to know the real people behind the organization you want to support and ask a few questions about what they really do with your money or your time.
1. Is this organization really fighting human trafficking?
Human trafficking is the exploitation of people through force, coercion, threat, and deception and includes human rights abuses such as debt bondage, deprivation of liberty, and lack of control over freedom and labor. Trafficking can be for purposes of sexual exploitation or labor exploitation.
This is where it gets tricky.
It has become quite clear over the past decade that all people who trade sex are not being "trafficked", and are doing to for many reasons. Please don't support any organization who uses criminal justice or "coerced interventions" to "rescue" adult consensual workers. Instead, support organizations who are providing services and support in the form of "hard" resources, like housing, food, clothing or transportation.
2. Is this organization legitimate?
Ask for identification and documentation that the person you are talking with is actually working on a human trafficking issue and that they support the human rights of people who identify as LGBTQIA+ and people of color. Keep in mind that many charitable organizations can also be faith-based projects and sub-organizations.
3. What kind of work does this organization do regarding human trafficking?
There are several types of NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) on the broad subject of human trafficking.
There are a great many organizations that are furiously raising money to “raise awareness” about the plight of trafficking victims. The money you donate to these organizations may not serve the needs of victims or survivors and we do not recommend donating time talent or treasure to organizations that are only “raising awareness”.
There are different kinds of advocacy, and diverse communities and groups understand advocacy in different ways, but advocacy in all forms shares some core beliefs. An advocate should respect the views and wishes of the person they advocate for, without judgement, and believes in their right to access information, representation, services and opportunities. Although some advocates may be legally or medically qualified, in general, advocates are volunteers or paid workers who have been trained by the project or group they are part of. You can expect an advocate to have been given training in listening and negotiating skills. They should also have knowledge of the basic legal framework and provision of mental health and community care services.
Advocacy within the anti-trafficking community can have an even broader scope. We recommend that you find out what the organization (or in some cases, and individual) advocates for and what specific steps they take to serve the client or group of clients.
Coalitions and Task-Forces
Coalitions and Task-Forces are networks of organizations that are claiming to serve the needs of trafficking victims, but who are not actually having any direct impact on victims and survivors at all. They are a collection of different kinds of organizations that do a variety of things. They usually include law enforcement, social services, and a variety of community based organizations.
They are supposed to be conduits (meaning they refer victims and survivors) to other organizations that are in theory supposed to provide specific services to a targeted population, but in reality these referrals end up “falling through the cracks” and receive nothing.
Sometimes local task-forces and coalitions will become funded in all or in part by larger coalitions and task-forces. The higher up the chain you go, the less effective these organizations become, and it is within these larger more diverse organizations where the large majority of gender based violence and abuse occurs. We have determined that the large majority of coalitions and task-forces are not an effective use of your time, money or talent.
Faith-based ministries, coalitions, and task-forces
There are many organizations that are church-funded as ministries, coalitions and task-forces. They may be a part of an individual church or a coalition of many churches, and may sometimes include other law enforcement organizations and even some social services.
The level of involvement in church-related human trafficking efforts is alarming because they are so difficult to track, both in financial transparency as well as service related accountability. Additionally, the services they do provide are largely “spiritual” and require complete immersion in a belief system that may or may not fall in line with their targeted demographic of client base. They are very exclusive as to who they will provide services to and the strings attached to their provision of services to victims and survivors require submission to their belief system in order to receive what they need.
Faith-based ministries can also have a high rate of sexual and gender based violence and abuse.
One of the latest trends in the human trafficking genre of NGO’s is media-based projects that produce films about human trafficking, specifically within the sex trade, as it has the most salacious and marketable type of material. They often recruit a celebrity or two and then follow them – sometimes with the cooperation of a leader of an NGO – around for a couple of weeks to document the work being done at “ground level”. These “documentaries” are usually slanted to ensure that the viewer gets whatever point the production company wants to portray. Much of the production ideas and costs are borne by the larger organizations, coalitions and task forces we discussed earlier. We do not recommend donating to these type of productions without investigating exactly what viewpoints they are trying to put forth.
Paramilitary raid and rescue organizations
A paramilitary organization is a group of people usually made up of former military, law enforcement private investigators who band together and its a pretty exciting story these organizations propagate. They claim to “investigate, rescue and restore” victims of human trafficking”, but they have a very poor history at having any positive real impact on the communities they invade. In fact, they usually make things much worse.
They often cite different levels of local, state, federal and international law enforcement and justice systems that they have partnered with and they insist that they have necessary follow-up services “all set up” but they rarely do. We do not recommend supporting organizations that do not distinguish between consensual sex work and sex trafficking.
Anti-sex work organizations
Some organizations are nothing more than anti-sex work organizations that are only concerned with eliminating prostitution in any form in their community or even world-wide. Some make vehement claims that they are really only concerned with child sex trafficking and some that argue that all forms of prostitution are sex trafficking. It’s important to distinguish the difference between sex work, prostitution and sex trafficking.
Don’t be alarmed if you didn’t know there was a distinction. The tendency to treat trafficking and prostitution as if they were the same thing has a long and problematic history. Legislation and social discussion have often blurred the lines or even denied any difference, but that has always made things worse rather than better for those involved.
4. What is the difference between sex work, prostitution and sex trafficking?
The trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery is undeniably a gross abuse of human rights. It involves coercion or trickery or both. Sex trafficking is an odious forms of trafficking, but it is far from the only one. Men, women and children are also — and more commonly — trafficked routinely for purposes of household and farm labor as well as sweatshop manufacturing. Those who are trafficked for the purposes of labor trafficking are not as popular to cover within the media as than those of sex trafficking victims, but they are no less brutal, dangerous and degraded.
A narrow focus on the single aspect of sex trafficking is often fueled by sensationalist and sometimes salacious accounts of sexual abuse. It leads us to ignore these other forms of trafficking, and so denies help and protection to all the men, women and children forced into and trapped in abusive working situations in other industries. Sex workers include men and women and transgender persons who offer sexual services in exchange for money. The services may include prostitution (sexual intercourse) and other services such as phone sex, stripping, escorting or pornography. People who trade sex do it for many reasons, but the key distinction here is that they do it voluntarily. They are not coerced or tricked into staying in the business but have chosen this from among options available to them.
Law enforcement raids targeting sex workers in the U.S. and abroad have led to little success identifying trafficked persons but instead have driven sex work underground. This exposes sex workers to an increased risk of violence and denies them any protection of laws against assault or access to medical, legal and educational services. It denies them their human rights.
You can read more about the difference between sex trafficking and sex work from a variety of perspectives on our resources page and we encourage you to do so! We want your donation of time, talent or treasure to be effective and it is only effective if you have all the information.
5. Who is in charge of the organization?
The people in charge of non-governmental organizations are usually high-profile people with an agenda. Knowing who the executive director is usually an easy person to identify, but be sure you ask questions about the board of directors and how they pick their projects. You can also get a great deal of information by talking to other people who volunteer for an organization.
6. What affiliations or alliances do they have with other organizations?
Organizations affiliate and align with other organizations when it suits their purpose. By definition, an affiliation or an alliance is a formal agreement for two or more group to work together towards a specific goal.
Partners on the other hand is definitive in meaning they support (or are supported by) the other partner financially. When you volunteer or donate to an organization, you are, in effect, partnering with that organization and you are stating that you publicly support all their activities and methodologies. If they do something that you do not agree with intellectually or philosophically, you should not support them by donating or volunteering with them.
7. How do they receive support their projects?
Organizations receive funding through a variety of means. They can hold events and fundraisers, solicit donations through email or on their website. They can access government, educational and private corporate grants if their mission qualifies.
There are broad guidelines to the spending of donations raised through any means other than grants and there is little tangible evidence that a large part of this revenue actually benefits victims and/or survivors. You can request visible evidence of stated services of support.
8. Do they provide direct services to victims and survivors?
Services are the most difficult portion of NGO’s operations and it is often based on availability but it is by far the most desperately lacking. The difficulty in providing the basic human needs of housing, clothing, food, transportation and advocacy are what drives some organizations to affiliate, align and partner with others.
Direct services are basic human needs such as shelter, clothing, food, and can be expanded to include transportation and education and information about a variety of subjects including health and safety, life and employment skills, or even formal education for a degree or a trade. The provision of direct services should be granted for humanitarian reasons without requirements for “joining” or “believing” as the primary goal.
Indirect services mean the organization is “farming out” the direct services to a smaller NGO or individual that may or may not follow through with implementation of the task. We recommend donating money and time to direct service organizations as they are more likely to be capable of determining how best to provide services to individuals and there is a greater likelihood the services will have an impact. You will want to be sure their direct service organization actually has the resources and the manpower to follow through with your financial contribution.
9. Are they ethical in their activities and are they following all required laws, including tax laws?
What is “legal” and what is “ethical” are often two separate things. Ethics in non-governmental organizations standards are applicable regardless of an NGO’s focus, whether it be humanitarian relief, advocacy, conflict prevention, research, education, human rights monitoring, health care, environmental action, and so forth. It should mean they treat others in the organization and the clients they seek to serve with respect and dignity as this is the gold human rights standard.
An NGO should be willing to work beyond borders of politics, religion, culture, race and ethnicity, within the limits of the organizing documents and with organizations and individuals that share common values and objectives.
An NGO should not violate any person’s fundamental human rights, with which each person is endowed.
An NGO should recognize that all people are born free and equal in dignity.
An NGO should be sensitive to the moral values, religion, customs, traditions, and culture of the communities they serve.
An NGO should respect the integrity of families and support family-based life.
The organization shall maintain independence and not be rigidly aligned or affiliated with any political party. By itself, being non-governmental does not mean that an NGO is prohibited from political activity, although certain types of NGOs may be proscribed by their nations from political and legislative activity, such as tax-exempt organizations in the United States, which are prohibited from participating or intervening to any substantial extent in attempts to influence legislation or participating in political campaigns to support or oppose any candidate(s) for political office. However, an NGO that is permitted to do political and legislative activity shall only engage within the limit of its mission and stated objectives.
The organization shall not act as an instrument of government foreign policy, but act independently of governments. The NGO shall not seek to implement the policy of any government, unless it coincides with the mission of the organization and the organization’s own independent policy.
10. Has anyone complained about any kind of harassment or sexual violence or abuse – particularly gender based harassment, violence or abuse?
Ask around about this subject and how it relates to the NGO you are considering supporting. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest this takes place a lot more often than you would think (or hope) because the very subject of sex is inflammatory – particularly in the US. If you hear of a complaint regarding abuse, it is worth further investigation. If you find it to be true, we encourage you to report it. We recommend that you only support organizations who you would accept services from if you were in need of such services. Do not donate time, talent or treasure to organizations who violate the human rights of other people through their provision of rescue by the very same methods of force, fraud and coercion that anti-trafficking organizations claim to fight. To that end, we encourage donations to human rights organizations and sex worker positive organizations who provide direct services for housing, food, clothing, legal advocacy of all types and education and information.