Written by Brittni Bryan, Intern, Second Life Chattanooga


Stack of hands


Many big-hearted activists interested in the issue of human trafficking, though they have the best of intentions, often fail to see the need for a multifaceted approach to abolitionist work. We shout from the mountain tops in order to create awareness or brave the streets and the trenches in daring attempts to rescue victims, but we don’t often consider that the nature of this hideous problem is more complex than any one of us can fully address. I myself am indeed guilty of this single-track mindedness as I was reminded afresh recently.

I had the opportunity to attend a presentation given by an expert leader in the anti-trafficking field. The presentation was geared towards domestic minor sex trafficking and clearly highlighted the need for carefully designed and targeted prevention work at three encompassing levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The way the information was presented really struck a chord with me as it reminded me that we cannot be expecting to end human trafficking simply by helping our communities understand that it exists or by only saving victims from the clutches of pimps. No, instead we must focus substantial energies on creating positive and productive partnerships to better meet our adversaries at all stages of the fight: before, during, and after trafficking occurs.

This inspiring presenter likened the different types of prevention work to how they would look in health care situations. So, primary prevention would naturally be what we think of as typical preventive measures such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, or exercising. When related to the anti-trafficking work, this would be general awareness efforts such as educating kids in schools, parents at PTA meetings, and community members at office or church group presentations, as well as efforts such as bill boards, posters, flyers, and hotline information cards. As the average age of entry into trafficking for a child victim is 13-14 (US Dept. of Justice, 2010), it is crucial that we start educating all sectors of our communities so that we can truly know how to respond to warning signs.

When considering secondary prevention, we can liken this to focusing our efforts on someone who shows many or all the risk factors of a certain disease. In relation to anti-trafficking work, effective secondary prevention would focus efforts on at-risk youth populations such as kids coming from dysfunctional families or those in poverty, runaways, homeless youth, and children in the foster care system. These characteristics generate at-risk situations because they create an environment where there is often a lack of basic resources and prior abuse (National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 2015). Thus, kids coming from these situations are easier for the traffickers to target and recruit. Consequently, prevention in this case would need to focus on identifying these at-risk kids and getting them connected with resources and services such as counseling in order to avoid them slipping any further toward the precipice of sexual-exploitation.

Finally, we look at tertiary prevention which would be similar to treating a disease after it has been diagnosed. When we consider what this looks like in relation to human trafficking, this would be the actual rescuing of, and services to, victims. In this case, there is a need for trained professionals such as law enforcement to be the ones doing the “rescuing” as well as carefully crafted and staffed services for the survivors. These services must consider a survivor’s physical, psychological, and emotional needs (Stotts & Ramey, 2009). Often one of the reasons people are recruited into the trade is because they have basic survival needs that must be met such as housing and food. So when providing victim services, there must be a consideration for long-term needs such as housing, education, income, job skills, and social supports. If these most basic of needs are not being met, the chance of the victim returning to ‘the life’ is all too high (Stotts & Ramey, 2009). These services must also be ‘trauma-informed’ by recognizing that the way in which these victims function very often connects to a long history of abuse and traumatic events which have lead them to believe they cannot trust anyone (Johnson, 2012).

Of course, creating these partnerships and working to address each of these prevention areas will come at a high cost and this is where the final and arguably most crucial piece of the puzzle comes into play. We could certainly conjecture all day long about what approaches to this work will be most effective, but if we, as community members and US citizens are not willing to back our views with funding, then we are fatally crippling our best intentions. Human trafficking presents a 9.5 billion dollar (United Nations) problem annually, so we cannot sit back and expect our government to take care of keeping our nation’s anti-trafficking programs afloat. In fact, right now there are only about 525 beds for minor trafficking victims in this country (Reichert & Sylwestrzak, 2013), where there are over 300,000 children at risk of being trafficked for sex annually (US Dept. of Justice, 2010).

These are our children, our brothers, and our sisters. Trafficking in America is our problem. If we are really honest with ourselves about this issues, we must first realize that we need each other. We need each other’s areas of expertise. We need each other’s financial and in-kind resources. We need to embrace the benefits of partnership and not get lost of the sensationalism of issue or the desire to stand alone in making a difference. We will only succeed in truly addressing all needed areas in the fight to end human trafficking when we recognize that we can accomplish more through combining our efforts than we ever could on our own; when we recognize that we are indeed, stronger together.


Johnson, B. C. (2012). Aftercare for Survivors of Human Trafficking. Social Work & Christianity, 39(4), 370-389

National Human Trafficking Resource Center (2015) Retrieved from: http://www.traffickingresourcecenter.org/what-human-trafficking/human-trafficking/victims

Reichert, J. & Sylwestrzak, A. (2013) National survey of residential programs for victims of sex trafficking. Retrieved from: http://www.icjia.state.il.us/public/pdf/ResearchReports/NSRHVST_101813.pdf

Stotts Jr., E. L., & Ramey, L. (2009). Human trafficking: A call for counselor awareness and action. Journal Of Humanistic Counseling, Education & Development, 48(1), 36-47.

United Nations (2007). UN and partners launch initiative to end ‘modern slavery’ of human trafficking Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=22009#.VNvvmC5SmSo

U.S. Department of Justice (2010) Effects of Federal Legislation on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Retrieved: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/228631.pdf