Social workers help reduce human trafficking

Dec 13, 2016

By Paul R. Pace, News staff
Social workers are taking the lead in efforts to reduce the number of human trafficking victims and help keep young people from falling prey to traffickers.


Panelists at NASW's national conference discuss what actions social workers are taking to address human trafficking.

Panelists at NASW’s national conference discuss what actions social workers are taking to address human trafficking.

Members of the NASW National Committee on Women’s Issues, or NCOWI, have been updating NASW’s public and practice policy statement on human trafficking, said Tonya Perry, chairwoman of the committee.
Human trafficking victims disproportionately involve women and girls, making it a priority for NCOWI, she explained.
“When we talk about poverty and gender, we are talking about women and children who are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked,” said Perry, who is a professor at the Department of Social Work, Psychology & Counseling at Alabama A&M University.
NASW’s policy statement on the issue was last updated in 2008, and human trafficking has grown since then to infiltrate smaller communities and the southern U.S., Perry said. Technology use has also grown in the trade, making human trafficking a $150 billion enterprise, she said.
The proposed updated policy statement that will be approved at NASW’s Delegate Assembly will help frame the core issues for social workers in terms of what human trafficking looks like, what the social work role is in reporting victims as well as promoting policies that aid victims and interventions, Perry said.
In addition to the policy statement update, NCOWI is also finalizing an NASW white paper on human trafficking that is expected to debut in early 2017.
Perry said the white paper will expand on ways social workers can gain essential training and knowledge about human-trafficking intervention and help them find key resources in local communities to draw upon for support.
In addition to these efforts, members of NCOWI presented a social work response to human trafficking at the NASW national conference earlier this year, where attendees gained insight into the global and domestic realities of human trafficking and micro-, mezzo- and macro-level intervention strategies.

There are also social workers who work with the legal system to help victims of human trafficking.
Social workers are among the team members in a Human Trafficking Intervention initiative in New York state that works to break the cycle of exploitation and arrest. Instead of jail, victims are offered a social services alternative.
The initiative, which was highlighted at this year’s NASW national conference, represents a significant shift in the way the justice system and communities view prostitution.
Social workers Sarah Dolan, who works for the Legal Aid Society, and Miriam Goodman, who works for the Center for Court Innovation, along with attorney Abigail Swenstein, who also works for Legal Aid Society, shared how the program is making a difference in the 11 courts in the state that are participating in the effort.
Goodman said the initiative creates multidisciplinary teams that increase communications for attorneys, judges, prosecutors and social workers to do what is best for trafficking victims.
“People aren’t going to jail at nearly the rate they were (before the initiative),” Goodman said, adding that a prostitution conviction can result in up to 90 days in jail.
Clients agree to a number of social service counseling sessions, not to get arrested for a certain amount of time, and to show up in court on assigned dates.
Swenstein said serving this population is a delicate balance because victims can feel trapped in their situation and many have an emotional bond to their pimps.
“There is a recognition of the fact that my clients, many if not all of them, are engaging in prostitution in order to survive, to provide for their basic needs,” Swenstein said. “I am not doing my job if I am not talking about the elephant in the room, which is their survival.”
“The fact that people can be linked to these services (instead of serving jail time) is a really powerful thing,” Goodman said, adding that this includes the ability to have charges removed from their records.
From the November 2016 NASW News.