Anti-Racism Work is Essential in the Anti-Trafficking Movement

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A special thank you to Jatnna Gomez from the University of Maryland SAFE Center for her input.

For Freedom Network USA, Black History Month is a time to celebrate Black Excellence and continue focusing on how the anti-trafficking field can be actively anti-racist. As a movement, the anti-trafficking field has started recognizing its roots in systemic oppression and some actions have been taken to breach the gap but there is still more we can do. As we do this work there needs to be intentional space created for Black survivors and Black advocates in the trafficking field. This space needs to be equitable and not performative.

“There needs to be a more conscientious effort to create space and leadership opportunities that are equitable.” -Jatnna Gomez 

Being anti-racist is crucial to our work and truly affects how survivors are treated after their trafficking experience. All survivors must be believed, not only white survivors. 

“White supremacy feeds into attitudes of ‘deserving victims,’ and because Black people are subject to being victim-blamed, they do not often enjoy the sympathy and understanding of professionals who hold biased (racist) attitudes towards certain individuals.” -Anonymous

The anti-trafficking field needs to better address the unique issues that impact Black girls who are trafficked. Systemic oppression occurs even before Black and Hispanic girls are trafficked and can be one of or the main root cause of their trafficking. 

“The over-sexualization of Black girls is a national problem where Black girls are not seen as innocent victims to protect, but rather questioned, and scrutinized with the expectation of finding some inherent flaw or culpability in their experiences. This is why we need to create more spaces and opportunities for Black and Hispanic girls to have their stories told in a way that gives them full ownership of the narrative. Until we allow girls to be portrayed as children with the need for protection, and who deserve a childhood free of abuse or trauma regardless of the shape of their bodies, unattainable expectations, or any other excuse we use to find culpability in their trauma, we will not have a clear understanding of the issues impacting them and how to address them.” -Jatnna Gomez

As professionals and workers in the anti-trafficking movement, we need to put in the work to educate ourselves, challenge racism, and bring an anti-racist lens to all our work. It has never been, and is still not enough, to simply not be racist. We must hold ourselves and our peers accountable in the work we do every day. This often-times means having uncomfortable conversations with your co-workers or even with yourself.

“It is not acceptable for a service provider to kick a survivor literally so why do we allow racism to constantly punch Black survivors in the face symbolically?” -Anonymous

Doing anti-racism work includes changing our language on how we speak about Black survivors and the terms we use. For example, the term “modern-day slavery” erases the racist history that encapsulates the word slavery in America. 

The label “pimp” is a racially coded word and should not be a part of training language (unless to highlight the racial coding and denounce its use) that reinforces such imagery. -Anonymous

Many of the gaps within the anti-trafficking field are caused and further exacerbated because of systemic racism. Our work is not, and will never be, meaningful unless we focus on anti-racist work and bridge the gaps that are in our movement.

By: Alana Jones and Haley Epping