Chairwoman Bass and Congressman Smith, thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony on behalf of the Global Survivor Network on the issue of Combatting Human Trafficking Globally.
The Global Survivor Network is an international group of survivor leaders who desire and pursue safe communities through justice systems that protect the most vulnerable. This includes survivors of different forms of violence like modern-day slavery, sex trafficking and bonded labor. We have chapters in nine countries, where many of the local survivor groups in the network have been operating and advocating powerfully for many years in their communities. The GSN started in 2019 and draws from the learnings and experience of survivors globally. We strongly believe that survivors are experts on the issues of violence and discrimination that we have suffered and that our collective voices will inspire change.
COVID-19 and Human Trafficking
In a world without a pandemic, traffickers have often preyed upon the most vulnerable, and those on the margins of society. If you look at the demographics of survivors, we often are ones without a proper safety net – whether that is income or protection. The pandemic has only exacerbated the violence experienced by vulnerable populations and has created exploitative opportunities for perpetrators. Due to COVID-19 lockdown measures, many people are at risk of falling victim to human trafficking because of unemployment, lack of stable income, poor access to healthcare, among other vulnerabilities. Traffickers have been quick to exploit both new victims as well as re-exploit others who lost their jobs and are looking for employment. In desperate times like these, it is survivor-led communities who have stepped up to protect and care for the vulnerable. For instance, a local survivor group, the Released Bonded Laborer Association (RBLA) in Chennai, India, distributed well over 3,000 relief kits, food supplies and COVID-19 kits to vulnerable families in the area. In addition, Tamil Nadu was hit by a cyclone in November 2020, and the RBLA stepped in to help restore damaged homes as well as provided them with resources needed for their livelihood.
As the world slowly recovers from the blow that COVID-19 dealt, we should prioritize the well-being of survivors as well as those at risk of exploitation. It requires exploring the issues unique to communities and groups prone to trafficking. Each of these groups might require responses that are unique to their region, but the overarching theme is the same. We need to create economic safety nets that provide stability through regular income and access to opportunities such as education, healthcare and justice. And most importantly, one way that we can end slavery is for traffickers to see that there is a consequence to their crimes. When justice is delivered through the courts, that will send a strong message to others. A system that will protect survivors is one that will benefit everyone in the community. Our goal should be to create a system where survivors have the ability to secure justice and protect themselves and their families from past, current and future exploitation.
A way to create this change is by amplifying survivor voices and giving them a seat at the table. We need to shift the narrative and stop viewing survivors as helpless victims of horrific acts of violence committed against them. We need to empower survivors by seeing them as experts on these issues of violence and allowing for their experiences to influence policy. While each survivor has unique experiences and perspectives it is important to note that the theme of violence is common across different countries. It is time to listen to survivors as experts, to pay attention and invite our contributions in the design, methodologies, implementation and assessment of humanitarian programs.
When we do this, we see real change start to happen. For instance, Victoria Nyanjura, founding member of the GSN Leadership Council, was instrumental in coordinating the efforts of more than 500 war-affected women to provide input into the Ugandan government’s post-conflict policy and program. Her work resulted in the Parliament of Uganda unanimously passing a resolution to address the plight of women survivors of northern Uganda’s conflicts, and the adoption of a National Transitional Justice Policy that considers the unique, gendered, justice needs of war-affected women and their children born out of sexual violence.
Another example from the GSN, is its local chapter in Guatemala, called My Story Matters (Mi Historia Importa) and their work with the Victim’s Institute (Instituto para la Asistencia y Atención a la Víctima del Delito.) The Institute designed its survivor care model in collaboration with members of “My Story Matters”, a movement of adult survivors of child sexual violence that has been advocating for access to justice since 2017. This Institute was established by an act of the Guatemalan Congress and has a legal mandate to represent and serve victims of crime, including homicide and sexual assault. The Institute is responsible for providing free legal assistance, emergency health care, counselling, and accompaniment of victims throughout the criminal justice process. It also serves a case management and case coordination function.
The GSN applauds the 2021 TIP Report which encourages incorporation of survivor voices into trauma-informed practices within organizations. It is crucial for organizations in this line of work to pursue survivor-informed approaches, incorporate survivor feedback and implement change. However, the GSN encourages that we go further and not limit survivors to simply influencing trauma-informed approaches within humanitarian organizations. It is time to view survivors as a collective group of champions in the movement against human trafficking globally.
Prioritize lived experiences of survivors: Engage survivors and survivor-led organizations in policy formulation. Empower survivors to share their stories and highlight their lived experiences to influence decision making and policy recommendation.
Survivor voices to influence policy: Organizations should shift away from tokenization of survivor stories but give survivors a seat at the table. As donors, fund initiatives that work with survivors. As lawmakers, prioritize survivor informed policy. Survivor groups are struggling and working hard in their communities and you need to put them at the center. By centering survivor groups and initiatives, you are giving survivors a chance to be heard, to be viewed as experts and to contribute to making change.
Ensure justice for survivors of violence: Survivors of violence need justice—we want to see those who enslave and abuse people convicted of their crimes. Congress should work on strengthening policy that relates to the protection of victims and ensure that justice is swiftly delivered to them.
Submitted by: Founding Members of the Global Survivor Network (GSN) Leadership Council
Pachaiyammal Arul, India
Josephine Aparo, Uganda
Vanessa Bautista, USA
M. Raja Ebenezer, India
David Makara, Kenya
Jakelin Mayen, Guatemala
Victoria Nyanjura, Uganda
Lara (a pseudonym), India
Charito (a pseudonym), Philippines
The Global Survivor Network urged the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs to consider three urgent recommendations in a witness testimony this week. The statement below was formally submitted by IJM Principal Advisor, Modern Slavery, Peter Williams as a follow-on to his remarks, which can be viewed at 54:00.
Link to the witness statement submitted by Peter Williams: HHRG-117-FA16-Wstate-WilliamsP-20211027.pdf (congress.gov)