Transphobia and Human Trafficking

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When we talk about the fundamental causes of trafficking, we often focus on how people’s identities can make them vulnerable. However, we must make it clear that their identity does not make them inherently more susceptible to trafficking. Instead, the discrimination and inequities that they face every day create opportunities for traffickers, and transphobia is not an exception.

Transphobia is on the rise as evidenced by increase in fatal violence, recent efforts to pass anti-transgender legislation, and an escalation of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

As transphobia surges, the anti-trafficking community, especially cisgender allies, must do more as to support transgender survivors of trafficking. 

1. We must make shelters more accessible and welcoming for transgender survivors

Due to transphobia, transgender people experience homelessness at a higher level than cisgender people. In many cases transgender survivors face increased difficulty and inaccessibility when trying to find a shelter. Some shelters do not welcome transgender people, whether it be explicitly stated or implicitly enforced. In order to create shelters where transgender survivors feel safe and welcomed, we must recognize that policy is not always the same as reality. Programs and staff must continuously evaluate if their  housing resources are accessible and safe as possible for everyone.

 2. Uplift transgender survivor voices

Simply claiming to listen to survivors is not enough. We need to continue to hold space for transgender survivors to feel comfortable and empowered to speak about their experiences, especially when they share criticisms of the anti-trafficking field. It is also vital that survivors are not used as mouthpieces or tokenized as an item on the list of inclusivity. Instead, they should have an equal part in the decision-making process and be listened to as experts in their experience. 

3. Prioritize Black transgender survivors

Black transgender survivors have continously been excluded from justice oriented movements due to transphobia and racism in these movements. In the anti-trafficking field, specifically Black women and girls, are not given the support they need despite that they are more likely to be targeted by traffickers. To support Black survivors, the trafficking field must challenge the racism that persists in our work and bring an anti-racist lens to the field. Within anti-racist practices there also must be genuine efforts to create leadership opportunities for Black transgender survivors.  

4. Real visibility in the field

Uplifting transgender survivors’ voices also looks like hiring more transgender people. Rook Hine from Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, one of our member organizations, shared, “I’d really like every human trafficking and sexual assault agency that doesn’t have at least one trans or nonbinary employee on their staff to reflect on why that remains the case. It’s easy to signify that an agency is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, but far too few agencies put real effort into diversifying their workforces or bring in token applicants who are never seriously considered. Real visibility can only come when the playing field is level for transgender workers and professionals.”

5. Decriminalizing sex work

Because transgender people have more barriers to resource access, they are more are also more likely to engage in sex work and be impacted by the negative stigma surrounding sex work. We also know that police violence is targeted at queer sex workers, especially sex workers of color. Decriminalizing sex work will create a safer environment for sex workers to engage in harm reduction strategies. Without the fear of arrest or deportation, sex workers are more likely to seek help for themselves or someone else if necessary. By decriminalizing sex work, trafficking survivors who may have also engaged in sex work can more easily access resources without the fear of arrest or deportation. 

“We celebrate the leadership of Trans advocates in the push for policies and laws that protect the safety, wellbeing, and human rights of sex workers and all individuals involved in the sex trades. Trans women of color, in particular, have led the way in approaching anti-trafficking through harm reduction and anti-oppressive practices. Not just today, but every day the critical role of Trans leaders must be recognized and centered in our collective pursuit to end human trafficking.” –The Sex Worker Project of the Urban Justice Center, FNUSA member