How one non-profit is seeking to proactively prevent human trafficking

By Connor Reilly |

Human trafficking, an international black market enterprise, reaches outside the borders of the United States as well as within. Non-profits, large and small, oftentimes help combat the sale of individuals by tasking survivors to dwell on their experiences to move past them. But how can organizations proactively prevent the sale of individuals outside of their reach?

Her Future Coalition, a St. Augustine, Florida based non-profit with shelter and outreach programs in Nepal, India and Thailand, founded by Sarah Symons and her husband John Berger tackles the extensive issue of human trafficking by not only reaching out to survivors, but also reaching out to ‘at-risk’ individuals in hopes of preventing the sale of persons in the first place.

“Our mission is to give people who have either been trafficked or are at very high risk, the tools to be slavery-proof. So to get them out of trafficking is obviously step number one, but then we’re not just going to keep rescuing people, or having those people (rescued) still remain vulnerable. We have to address the vulnerabilities … not only will that person not be trafficked again, but their children won’t be trafficked and they can become a safety net to help other people in the community see what’s going on. Then they become a line of defense,” Symons said.

Recently-hired intern for Her Future Coalition and Flagler College International Studies major, Asya Gerards, praises the unique and personalized regimen the non-profit incorporates while helping survivors abroad.

“Instead of focusing on PTSD, the non-profit really focuses on recovery as opposed to dwelling on the traumatic experience. They believe that it’s better to look forward than stay in the past, create personal goals and accomplish them, such as starting or finishing education, finding housing, or learning a new trade,” Gerards said.

Although human trafficking takes place on a massive scale, Symons notes the reasons as to why countries aren’t taking a greater stand against is because those victimized often come from lower standing classes, deeming them invisible to society and ‘otherizing’ them from every day life.

“The driving factors I would say, are poverty, the low status of women and other marginalized groups like gay men … also the low status of certain tribal groups where people are ‘otherized’. When you put those two factors together, extreme poverty and this ‘otherization’, I feel like you have an opportunity for trafficking to take place,” Symons said.

Another one of the unique ways Her Future Coalition strives to make those victimized and those at-risk of human trafficking is to help individuals move away from either there experience or what their social class deems them to be. This coaxes victimized and at-risk individuals to have the realization that education, employment and self-sustainability are achievable goals.

“Certainly in India and Nepal, caste is a huge factor driving it, and it very directly correlates with those of a much lower class being enslaved at a higher level. Other countries don’t have a formal caste system like Thailand or The United States and in those cases it’s kind of like, the poor, kids of color, LGBTQ, tribal groups; groups that are already struggling, marginalized and seen as the other are trafficked at a much higher rate,” Symons said.

Since Her Future Coalition is such a small non-profit, proactivity in the countries they work in is a necessity. Regardless, this proactive outreach is a method not often utilized by other non-profits, especially the larger organizations. Needless to say, the larger organizations play a huge role in spreading awareness, still Symons believes smaller non-profits such as her own excel in the sense that they can immerse themselves within certain communities, providing a personalized experience for survivors of human trafficking.

“I think that in terms of actually empowering people and rebuilding lives, smaller non-profits probably have an advantage because it’s intensive work … trying to rebuild a person’s self-esteem, it’s not even rebuilding, they didn’t have one, they felt like zero. You’re trying to build something out there and address the physical health issues and the mental health issues and find a job. It’s really intensive work, and I think smaller non-profits and smaller agencies probably have an advantage with providing that kind of intensity; but, for bringing awareness to large groups of people and prevention and putting in place education programs, things that are straight forward and simple, I think larger non-profits have a good role to play as well,” Symons said.

Although Symons believes today’s world human trafficking must be combatted by all means available, Her Future Coalition acts as an example as to how non-profit organizations strive to combat the international black market enterprise through offensive tactics such as proactively educating individuals to be ‘safety-nets,’ in hopes of preventing future generations from becoming victimized.

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