A Frequently Asked Question: “What Can I Do?”

Jun 19, 2019 | by Jenn Harvey

When facilitating training and community awareness on the subject of human trafficking, a question that we often receive is, “Well, what can we do to fight this issue?” Usually the question is preceded or followed by, “Not all of us can work in the anti-trafficking field” or, “I have little time and resources to give”.

This is a bold and needed question. It is needed because there are daily and normalized aspects of our society that propel and perpetuate trafficking. Bold, well, because it can be scary to come face-to-face with the ways in which our everyday lives cause us to be complicit.

Our social norms and systems continue to place additional vulnerabilities on groups who already have faced marginalization due to historical and generational trauma, intentional inequality to access of resources, racism, homophobia and transphobia, religious imperialism, majority culture superiority, a consumerism driven culture, and gender-based violence, to name a few.

As UNICEF reflects, “Ultimately, harmful social norms and systemic inequity fuel trafficking because traffickers target vulnerability” (2017). These systems of oppression can be so immersed in our everyday structures that it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to making change happen.

This calls us to action to learn from, support, and reflect the practices of those who are doing the slow work to eradicate some of these societal-induced vulnerabilities that fuel the supply and demand of forced commercial sex and labor.

Here are just some of the things we can all start to do (including us!) in order to hold ourselves accountable to being a part of that change:


Knowledge & Awareness

We can grow in our understanding of what human trafficking looks like in our local context. If our communities are well equipped with knowledge of what exploitation is, we will have more awareness! There are many myths and misconceptions about trafficking, so the first step is helping ourselves and one another learn the truth.

  • Check out this article by The Polaris Project! After analyzing over 32, 000 cases of trafficking, they identified 25 types of human trafficking in the United States and compiled this data into “The Typology of Modern Slavery”.  It is a great place to start!
  • After learning about the types of trafficking that exist, familiarize yourself with the signs and how to spot potential exploitation here.
  • Test your knowledge with Polaris’s quiz, specifically about human trafficking and the use of social media at their website here.
  • Attend a training! There are several anti-trafficking organizations in the Chicagoland area that provide outreach and training to our community members. Hearing from those in the field can be a great way to solidify the research you have explored already. To request a human trafficking training from STOP-IT, check out our website and send your request in here.
  • Join us at the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force 9th Annual Conference this August to hear from experts in the anti-trafficking field about best practices and current trends. More details about the conference and registration can be found here


The giving of our time, creativity, talents, and resources can be a helpful way to partner with those already providing direct services to survivors of trafficking.

  • If you are interested in volunteering with your local anti-trafficking agency, you can access information about these opportunities through the National Human Trafficking Hotline Referral Directory here. Under the “Opportunities and Training” tab, simply click on “Volunteer Opportunities” and set the search for your geographical area.
  • STOP-IT is so grateful for all the volunteers who dedicate their time to assist with our hotline and drop-in center services. If you live in the Chicagoland area, feel free to learn more about our volunteering opportunities here.
  • All too often our systemic oppressions greatly impact our youth and young adults. Polaris states “In 2017, an estimated 1 out of 7 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children were likely child sex trafficking victims”. Many of the program participants we get to know have histories of childhood adversity and developmental trauma prior to their experiences of exploitation. If prevention work is on your heart, why not look into mentoring opportunities? We believe that relational trauma requires relational healing and often the prominent vulnerability we see for youth that leads to a lack of opportunities involves a lack of support systems.  You can search for opportunities in your community to mentor at this website

Critical Consumerism

Unfortunately, agricultural work and factories are common venues for forced labor. According to Polaris (2018), “Workers in food processing, clothing, and shoe manufacturing factories are especially vulnerable to labor abuse and trafficking. Polaris-operated hotlines have also documented labor trafficking and exploitation cases in a wide range of other manufacturing facilities, including factories producing electronic devices and vehicles.” Investing our resources in fair labor and fair trade products can be another great place to start!

  • The Bureau of International Labor Affairs indicates that, “As of September 20, 2018, the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor comprises of 148 goods from 76 countries” (DOL, 2018). To read their full report on this List of Goods, you can find it here. In order to find out how much of our daily use of work, goods, and shopping incorporates forced labor, the Slavery Footprint Survey is a helpful tool! The survey can be accessed here.
  • After taking the survey, here are some helpful resources to jumpstart your learning about fair trade items and companies:
  • With Better World Shopper, you can search the best and worst companies when it comes to environmental and social responsibility based on their database of over 2000 companies. Check out their work here.
  • Stay up-to-date with fair trade news and access fair trade shopping guides and products with Fair Trade Certified here
  • For a quick reference when you need to find a find fair trade store for your home goods, bath and body products, electronics, food & coffee needs, a certified list can be found at End Slavery Now.
  • In addition to avoiding placing our financial resources in the wrong hands, donating items and resources to anti-trafficking agencies will have a direct impact on the participants receiving services. If you’re interested in donating to the STOP-IT program, an Amazon Wish List of needed items for our clients and drop-in center can be found here.

Reframing Our Language

Our words hold power. They can be used to uplift or to blame. While it seems like a small step, reframing our language around individuals with lived experience of trafficking and those who perpetuate this crime can cause a rippling effect on those around us.

This means that we may be the ones at the party who don’t laugh at the joke that makes light of sexual assault. It means that we may be more mindful and skip the song that glorifies and normalizes pimp culture and ownership of others. It means that we refrain from wondering what “choices” were made by the survivor of trafficking and put our focus on the crime being committed against them.

It may mean that we hold space for the survival skills that folks utilize rather than writing them off with labels of “homeless”, “drug addict”, “illegal”, or “prostitute”. When we take the liberty of placing labels on others, especially labels that historically hold negative and stigmatizing connotations in society, we strip away the layers of lived experience and identity that the individual holds. These labels leave little room for the possibility that someone may actually be a survivor of trafficking. These words put people on a trajectory to judgement and punitive responses, rather than services and aid.

Take the Truckers Against Trafficking organization for example. They have paved the way for the trucking industry to become educated about human trafficking and equipped with resources when they spot signs of exploitation. They have recognized that shifting language can have a profound result as they state,

“One immediate way that everyone can get involved is by consciously changing our language and ensuring that others are following suit. Understanding the dynamics involved when people are trafficked and breaking down pre-determined stereotypes and name-calling are good first steps. Use your knowledge about human trafficking to educate others and feel empowered to call out those who glorify the word “pimp” in their language, or who demean individuals engaging in commercial sex by using labels such as “lot lizards,” "whore," "street walker," or the like. And, there is no such thing as a “child prostitute” because minors induced to engage in commercial sex are victims of human trafficking!” (Polaris, 2017).

Lastly, it means that we are careful not to categorize our desire to help as “Rescuing”.  Human trafficking is a complex crime that more often than not involves psychological tactics of power and control, rather than just confining an individual. It is often perpetrated by intimate partners, family members, or individuals that form a relationship with the survivor. Use of the word “rescue” sums up the solution to exploitation as simply stepping in and taking individuals away from the situation. It minimizes the immense trauma that individuals often face.

Because a rescue mission falsely assumes what survivors need, it therefore produces misconceptions about who traffickers are, their tactics, and what trafficking looks like for survivors. Additionally, a blogger writes for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, ‘”rescuing creates an uneven power dynamic where the “rescuer”… has all of the power in the relationship and the “rescuee”… has no agency or role in the exit of his or her abusive situation”’(Owens-Bullard, 2014). It puts individuals in the box of helpless victim indebted to the rescuer. To read more about the impact of this word on survivors and anti-trafficking efforts, you can reference the full blog here.

Safety First

Gaining knowledge about trafficking and how to identify potential exploitation will urge us toward wanting to offer help in the moment we recognize the red flags. In these moments of urgency, safety is of upmost importance, for you and for the potential survivor. Intervening, bringing someone to your home or your place of employment for safety, or providing your personal information can lead to danger for you and risky consequences for the individual.

Rather, it is always recommended to take your concern to helpful numbers and agencies who have already set up safety parameters for those reporting information and those requesting assistance.

Suspicious activity or tips can be passed along to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888) 373-7888.

We may not all be able to implement everything on this list. Not all of us can afford to buy everything fair trade. Not all of us have time in our schedules to volunteer. However, we encourage everyone to start small and to start somewhere.

What ideas do you have? What is your community doing to take steps toward change? Tell us about it!

Sources & Reference List:

Bureau of International Labor Affairs. (2018). U.S. department of labor’s 2018 list of goods produced by  child labor or forced labor. Retrieved from     https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/ListofGoods.pdf

Polaris. (2017). The eyes and ears of our nation’s highways. Retrieved from                 https://polarisproject.org/blog/2017/02/22/eyes-and-ears-our-nations-highways

Polaris. (2017). The typology of modern slavery: Defining sex and labor trafficking in the united states.   Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/typology

UNICEF USA. (2017). What fuels human trafficking? Retrieved from         https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/what-fuels-human-trafficking/31692












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