The needs and experiences of survivors are unique and instrumental to all discussions related to programs, policies and legislation in the field of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. When human trafficking legislation is passed without due diligence and without the strategic sounding board of those who have been impacted by it, it can risk causing harm instead of protection and support.
Additionally, failure to adequately utilize survivor knowledge results in missing systemic issues and root causes that contribute to trafficking of victims and thereby, designing interventions that fail to reflect the reality of victims’ lived experiences. Moreover, the quality and effectiveness of support programs cannot be evaluated without active involvement of survivors who can reflect on the various aspects of the program to help improve it and ensure that programs are effective, and trauma informed as well as culturally sensitive for relevant groups.
Unfortunately, meaningful survivor inclusion in the field has been limited so far. Survivors have repeatedly been viewed only as victims and not as experts and their interventions have often been limited to sharing the stories of their exploitation. Furthermore, even where they have been invited to the table, their participation has not been meaningful and often merely tokenistic, with their interventions being valued in terms of sharing their experiences, but not their expertise and their work is generally not compensated. To change this, survivor movements at national, regional and international levels have been working hard and demanding stronger representation in decisions that impact them.
Today, survivors are starting to become leaders in the anti-trafficking movement; they are part of community-based networks, connecting, and drawing strength from their own bitter experiences to help protect vulnerable people. Networks of survivor leaders are increasingly at the forefront talking about the issues faced by survivors and where the system lacks in supporting those in need. Their efforts in advocating for a trauma-sensitive approach were recognized in the 2021 US TiP report which encouraged incorporation of survivor voices into trauma-informed practices within organizations. Moreover, in 2021, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) launched the International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Board (ISTAC), consisting of 21 leading survivors of human trafficking from across the OSCE; the ISTAC is tasked with assisting ODIHR’s work in combating trafficking in human beings through survivor expertise and leadership and this year OSCE, in consultation with ISTAC and other stakeholder published a Code of Practice for Ensuring the Rights of Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking with the objective of providing guidance to Governments on ways to ensure the inclusion of victims and survivor’s voices and their full engagement on all anti-trafficking responses.
Despite these positive developments however, survivor inclusion still needs to be institutionalized in a structured and responsible way. This is why we have established Beyond Survivors.