The Employment Barrier for Trafficking Survivors | Sojourners

The Employment Barrier for Trafficking Survivors

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To leave the trafficked sex industry is to encounter many barriers. Among those is the need for employment opportunities and the opportunity to learn a trade while gaining skills to earn an independent income.

Consider this: A woman leaves a trafficker, through his arrest or her own personal escape. This trafficker created total dependence — someone who, amidst abuse and exploitation, provided for her. She usually had no control of this money, and gave over anything she made for his earnings. Her needs are met — but she is completely dependent on him for survival.

Then she is separated from her trafficker, and she has nothing: No income, usually a limited education, and at times minimal job skills to report on a resume. Her survival reflects her strengths and resources — but how does she capture resilience for prospective employers? What does she do when she carries a criminal record history?

One survivor described this experience to me, saying, “I look horrible on paper.”

At times, this woman will have children to support, an apartment that needs rent, utilities to pay, a cell phone to attempt to maintain contact with her few limited supports and mandatory contacts with professionals.

No income. No job. No social capital. Little support to encourage the job search.

For some, the lure of the material items alone is intense. In asking one survivor what she needed as she started over, she replied, “I need everything. I left with only a duffle bag.”

How is this rescue? How is this freedom? Where is the restoration that supporters of the anti-trafficking movement seem so confident will occur?

Finding employment is one major barrier for human sex trafficking survivors and women who leave prostitution. Does leaving bring relief? Hope? Healing? All of those things are possible … but first one must survive.

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist known for creating a hierarchy of needs for human development, knew what he was talking about when he said first one must have basic physiological needs fulfilled before they can thrive as a person.

Human sex trafficking survivors are in great need of not just jobs, but those who will see, affirm and maximize their skills, knowledge, capacities, and potential, and channel them into an employment opportunity, a future career or profession — and ultimately a place of purpose and dignity. One survivor recently shared that she had applied to over 150 jobs in her first few months of leaving her trafficker. She said one employer contact her and said ,“Do you know your criminal record is public knowledge?”

This created such a feeling of shame, she said.

“He may as well have said, ‘You used to be a prostitute?’”

How can communities respond to the tangible needs of trafficking survivors? Provide places of employment. If you know a business or an employer that would provide a job opportunity and the supportive training that would ideally accompany it, you will change a life. You will remove one of the greatest barriers of the restoration process.

To provide an employment opportunity and training is to provide a setting where dignity and purpose can be restored, essential components of the trauma healing purpose and the life of every human being.