Organizations working to end human trafficking and modern slavery frequently throw around the word “freedom” in our theories of change, and we measure our impact based on how many individuals have moved from situations of exploitation to freedom. But when we say “freedom” in the anti-trafficking space, we tend to mean liberation from slavery. We measure how many individuals have been freed from exploitation and we emphasize dramatic transitions, as when a child is reunited with their family after being trafficked, a man is rescued from forced labor on a fishing boat, or a woman is released from debt bondage in a brick kiln. But liberation from slavery is only one part of freedom: Without unconstrained choice, the absence of exploitation is not enough to make you free. Freedom can only endure if you continue to have control over your own choices and actions after liberation.
Why does a sector that purports to advance freedom spend so little time providing access to greater financial security and education, the very things that survivors say are most critical to their continuing freedom? If we focus on providing immediate liberation and urgent assistance—the “three Ps”: protection of survivors, prosecution of traffickers, and prevention against future exploitation—this framework leaves the challenge of sustaining freedom up to each individual (especially when the survivor is an adult or a foreigner).
As a survivor of human trafficking, I can pinpoint the moments in my life that translated to sustained freedom: When I was able to access trauma-informed therapy, to finish university, and to achieve financial security through stable employment. I was able to access all of these moments—that created more freedom—because of the financial resources of those close to me and, eventually, through creating my own financial security. Financial security allowed me to take care of immediate needs like rent or food while also allowing me the freedom to choose how I spent my disposable income. Financial security means earning more than enough money to scrape by; it also means being able to have a dinner out with friends every so often. That security gave me the gift of enjoying my life more fully, which brought me more peace and ease.
Read the full article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.