Freedom Network USA

A conversation with Aya Tasaki from Womankind, Freedom Network USA member.  

Tell us about the anti-trafficking work that Womankind does?

Womankind supports survivors of human trafficking through our anti-trafficking program, Project Free, in addition to supporting survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence across the lifespan. We pride ourselves in being able to offer services with linguistic and cultural humility, to the greater Asian community. We strive to be survivor-centered and trauma-informed in our practices. Project Free is a service provider in the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where majority of our massage parlor worker referrals come from. Most of our anti-trafficking work for the past 12 years, however, has been with identified labor trafficked clients outside of the courts and our immediate and long term advocacy includes (but is not limited to): legal support, case management, emotionally supportive counseling, accompaniment, addressing healthcare and economic needs, resource referrals, ensuring clients know and have access to their multitude of rights in New York City and general systems navigation support. We are expanding our collaboration with more community-based organizations that invest in outreach, building power, and organizing in the various communities. In many ways, we are a first step for clients to address their concerns and any trauma – and we’ve often remained their supports up through and even after they receive their T-visa or other legal remedy.

What is the impact of police raids on those identified through the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court?

Raids are inherently destructive and harmful because we unfortunately continue to live in a world that is deeply entrenched in racism, stereotypes and fear of immigrants, and criminalization of poverty. Criminalization in general has not been positive for clients we’ve served. The trauma of arrest – which often include feelings of humiliation and shame, and deep harm to self-determination – adds to any prior trauma and can further clients’ fears about police and/or government interactions. Too often, the sole outcome of the raids is the stripping away of an individual’s only source of income, and sometimes of their housing and support system. It disrupts the complex economic and community ecosystem that under-resourced and marginalized immigrant communities have created for their survival. Some clients have been forced to find alternative jobs in new cities, further away from communities they had began to establish. This can be more of a concern for their current safety and stability. The “best case scenario” stories exist only for few clients out of the hundreds we have served, who have been able to access good legal help and remain working with our advocate to obtain their own sense of justice around the trafficking experience. Raids continue to be a tool that serves the interest of law enforcement, rather than centering the true wants and needs of survivors and those who are perceived to be victims.

Can you tell us about the coalition in NY working to improve working condition and access to certification for your clients and others? 

The Education Law Coalition consists of organizers, service providers, attorneys, and policy advocates. It came together to address a very concrete and specific issue that all anti-trafficking organizations across political ideologies in New York City were seeing – a very real need to reduce education law barriers for clients who have been charged with unlicensed practice of massage to obtain licensure. This work brings forward the need to focus on workers’ rights in order to prevent and even break cycles of human trafficking. We are expanding our coalition to include more organizations with expertise around labor rights, including those who have been deeply involved in the Nail Salon Campaign work.

Where can people learn more about your work?

Feel free to get in touch with us through email or phone! You can see some of the basic information on our website at iamwomankind.org, and our Facebook page and Instagram (@iamwomankind). Our twitter account tends to be a bit more about our policy work (@iamwomankind). Please also check out our work as Decrim NY steering committee member at decrimny.org and on twitter (@DecrimNY)

Aya Tasaki is Manager of Policy and Advocacy at Womankind.