Abstract: A Global Perspective of Justice for Trafficked Persons (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

A Global Perspective of Justice for Trafficked Persons

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Anita Teekah, Esq., Senior Director, Safe Horizon, Brooklyn, NY
Madeleine Marrin, MSW, Research and Evaluation Analyst, Safe Horizon, New York, NY
The human rights-focused model frames human-trafficking (HT) as a violation of basic human rights. It positions harmed individuals at the core of the HT response and emphasizes that governments are responsible for protecting and promoting the human rights of individuals. Changes in international law and policy have paved the way for significant improvements in national response to trafficking. However, the notion of justice and how to achieve justice for HT survivors is undefined. Kaleidoscopic justice, developed in the field of sexual violence in the UK (McGlynn & Westmarland, 2019), proposes a multifaceted notion of justice that ever-evolves through the lived experiences of survivors. Utilizing the framework of kaleidoscopic justice, this study’s goal was to understand, from the perspective of service providers across the globe: (1) What constitutes justice for HT survivors? and (2) How can service providers integrate justice into their work?

Data for this study were originally collected during a two-year HT Global Learning Collaborative. Seven participants, representing agencies from Denmark, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Perú, the United States of American, and Trinidad and Tobago, participated in the initial virtual meeting focused on justice for HT survivors. The meeting was designed to be an unstructured non-directive focus group to encourage participants to describe their experiences in their own words and according to their own perspectives. The project coordinator facilitated the conversation and commenced with one open-ended question: How do you help your clients achieve justice? The call was recorded and transcribed. Data analysis was conducted using a critical feminist theoretical lens through a constant comparison analysis of the data (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The final themes were sent to the members of the Global Learning Collaborative for feedback.

The results revealed three themes: (1) justice for HT survivors, (2) flaws of the state’s justice system, and (3) partnership as solutions. The participants discussed multifaceted definitions and understandings of justice and emphasized the anti-trafficking field must acknowledge the need for survivor-defined justice. They identified numerous system flaws related to (a) the time frame and impact of criminal proceedings, (b) the inability of the justice system to meet the holistic needs of survivors, (c) the criminalization and perceived culpability of survivors, (d) the state’s inability/unwillingness to identify HT survivors, (e) survivors’ fear of state actors, and (f) the state’s focus on prosecutions. Finally, participants emphasized the importance of building partnerships with the state system to increase access to one avenue of justice for HT survivors through educating the state system, partnering with the justice system, utilizing restorative justice approaches, and empowering HT survivors throughout the justice process.

Justice for HT survivors must be multifaceted, survivor-centered and extend beyond the legal framework. Partnerships among NGOs, state agencies, and survivors can create diverse and sustainable opportunities for justice. The findings from this research can be used to guide practice and policy work in the field of HT. Additional research is encouraged to continue to expand the field’s understanding of justice among HT survivors.