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National Human Trafficking Prevention Month: An Expert's Advocacy Guide

“Trafficking isn’t what we often expect it to look like. It impacts individuals of all races, ethnicities, genders, and also those who are documented and undocumented. We need to be thinking about who may be vulnerable, engaging with those who may be pressured to work or engage in commercial sex trafficking. Once they’re identified, we need to ask what do we have the responsibility to provide them?”

Julie Dahlstrom, Clinical Associate Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law and Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking (IRHT) Program Director

According to the US Department of State office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons: “Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, includes both forced labor and sex trafficking. It not only represents a threat to international peace and security but also undermines the rule of law, robs millions of their dignity and freedom, enriches transnational criminals and terrorists, and threatens public safety and national security everywhere.”

There are an estimated 24.9 million people, both adults, and children, around the world who are victims of human trafficking.

“One of the challenges with human trafficking is it’s not easy to find accurate data,” says Julie Dahlstrom, a clinical associate professor of law at Boston University School of Law and Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking (IRHT) program director. “What we do know is that trafficking cases reported through formal channels, whether that’s through law enforcement or through organizations like our own, are likely the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much under identification.”

To help raise awareness around this issue in the US, the Department of State has designated January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. First designated in 2010, this month is set aside as a time to discuss and address human trafficking publicly: “I think often there are many misconceptions about trafficking. Some of the primary ones are that it has to involve foreign nationals and has to involve transportation. Under US federal law, it doesn’t have to require transportation. Also, human trafficking often does involve US citizens, as well as non-citizens. It’s a question of vulnerability. We need to ask ourselves what makes someone particularly at risk.”

The populations who are at risk of trafficking are vast and ones that people might not readily assume: “US citizens are often released from parole or prison and on probation are at high risk. I think we don’t often think of that as trafficking, but they are vulnerable because they don’t have opportunities in the workforce and can easily be brought into forced labor,” shares Chalstrom. “We also see a disproportionately high number of those aging out of child welfare systems who can be vulnerable. They lack family or community support, and there aren’t always housing resources available.”

There have been significant advancements in this field, particularly on the legal side: “In the law, there’s been greater recognition that trafficking is a broad concept that can even apply to forced work within a domestic violence situation or sexual assault. There was a trafficking case filed against Harvey Weinstein arguing the coercive act of telling someone, ‘If you have sex with me, I’ll give you a roll in my film’ is a form of trafficking. The law has evolved tremendously to recognize these different forms of exploitation, which I think is quite positive,” shares Dahlstrom.

Continue reading to learn about Ms. Dahlstrom’s advice on getting started in a career helping victims of human trafficking and top online certificate programs that can help professionals understand this field better.

Meet The Expert: Julie Dahlstrom, JD

Julie Dahlstrom

Julie Dahlstrom is a clinical associate professor of law at Boston University School of Law and is also their Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking (IRHT) program director. In 2012, Dahlstrom founded the Human Trafficking Clinic and has directed it ever since.

Before working at Boston University, she was a senior staff attorney at Casa Myrna Vazquez, representing clients who had been victims of commercial sexual exploitation. She also was the managing attorney at the Immigration Legal Assistance Program at Ascentria Care Alliance. In 2016, she received the “Top Women of the Law Award” from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. Dahlstrom received a JD from Boston College Law School and a bachelor of arts from Boston College.

The Importance of National Human Trafficking Prevention Month

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month is critical to raising people’s awareness around this issue and getting them thinking beyond current perceptions. “Trafficking isn’t what we often expect it to look like. It impacts individuals of all races, ethnicities, genders, and also those who are documented and undocumented,” says Dahlstrom. “We need to be thinking about who may be vulnerable, engaging with those who may be pressured to work or engage in commercial sex trafficking. Once they’re identified, we need to ask what do we have the responsibility to provide them?”

Perceptions of resources and services for victims many times don’t match reality. “Often, we think that there’s a lot to protect these individuals or provide them with rights, but it’s not so straightforward in terms of accessing those rights. And it’s also not true that once someone has exited out of exploitation, there are many options for them,” shares Dahlstrom.

There is a lot of work to do: “How do we create a real network of opportunities for people once they’ve exited?” asks Ms. Dahlstrom. “It’s a community effort that takes time and real engagement in addressing the root causes.” Often, those root causes aren’t obvious but are issues that can be addressed through community services such as care for children aging out of foster care, support for women leaving abusive relationships, immigration assistance for undocumented workers, and food and housing assistance for low-income individuals.

Careers in Addressing Human Trafficking

There are many options for careers in human trafficking that don’t always involve working directly with victims. “Since there are many different root causes of trafficking, you can work with those where you are vulnerable or experiencing trafficking in many different contexts without thinking of yourself as a trafficking or anti-trafficking professional. I think increasingly we need to have multidisciplinary teams and approaches to addressing this issue,” encouraged Dahlstrom.

Become an Attorney

There are many options for attorneys who want to work with victims of human trafficking. “You can work as an immigration lawyer, or you could be a criminal attorney addressing the post-conviction relief for those who are charged with crimes related to trafficking,” says Dahlstrom. “There are lots of people who are lawyers who also engage in policy-related work. We have someone doing federal advocacy around trafficking legislation as a lawyer. So the work can vary a lot.”

Become a Social Worker

Social workers work with victims of slavery and human trafficking at many levels. They can provide support services and counseling for those currently being exploited and those who have exited. Many human trafficking victim agencies have social workers on staff to care for clients at all stages. It is not uncommon for social workers to also have to testify in court or work directly with investigators to help prosecute the perpetrators.

Become a Case Manager

“Case managers, which are often someone who may or may not have a social work degree, work on the basic needs for survivors,” says Dahlstrom. For example, “there are federally funded programs often situated within refugee resettlement programs where case managers are helping people accessing legal rights and other services.” Case managers are ultimate problem-solvers who advocate for their clients and work with them until they have the resources they need to be successful.

Online Training Programs in Human Trafficking Prevention

Here are three online options for working to combat slavery and human trafficking.

Vanguard University

Vanguard University offers a four-course online certificate in anti-human trafficking. This program is designed for professionals who want to work in this field to broaden their knowledge base as well as learn about innovations in supporting victims. The course aligns with the US Department of State’s model of prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership. To earn this certificate, students must complete four courses, two required and two electives.

All courses are offered through distance learning. While students can pay full tuition and receive college credits for their work, Vanguard offers the option for professionals who don’t need the credits to complete the program at a significant discount.

  • Location: Costa Mesa, CA
  • Duration: Four classes
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC)
  • Tuition: $1290 per course

Florida State University

The Professional Certification in Human Trafficking Prevention and Intervention offered online through Florida State Univesity is a 12-hour program that gives professionals working knowledge and skills in human trafficking. This program uses research-based readings, multimedia materials, and case studies to present materials in an interesting and engaging way. Students will complete assignments and quizzes to ensure they have retained the information covered.

By completing this certificate, professionals will have a better understanding of how to address the cause of human trafficking as well as how to best support victims. This certificate is designed for anyone working with at-risk populations, including clergy, teachers, criminal justice officers, judges, lawyers, counselors, and social services staff. Many professional associations award continuing education credits for completing this course.

  • Location: Tallahassee, FL
  • Duration: 12 hours
  • Accreditation: Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: $699 for the course

Harvard University

The Extension School at Harvard University offers an online human trafficking, slavery, and abolition in the modern world online courses. By completing this course, students will have a working understanding of the history of slavery and how it presents itself in the modern world. Types of trafficking covered include human smuggling, child soldiering, bonded labor, and even organ trafficking.

While this class has a set schedule with live-streamed lectures, students can opt to watch the recording later if they cannot attend the class. This class can be completed for no credit or can for undergraduate or graduate credit for an additional fee.

  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Duration: One semester
  • Accreditation: The New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Tuition: $1,700 for the course

Advice and Resources for Starting a Career in Addressing Human Trafficking

“My advice is to remember that there are many different ways to do this work,” encourages Dahlstrom. “There’s often a desire to engage directly with survivors, but sometimes it can be challenging to get into those positions. So, I encourage people to get involved in the root causes of trafficking.” This can look a lot of different ways, from working with youth aging out of the foster system to working in a public defenders office to understand better the vulnerabilities people face and how to address them.

However, no matter how one chooses to work in this field, one key element must always come first, according to Dahlstrom: “It’s important to work with survivor-led programs where survivors are doing the work and we can support them,” she says. “Increasingly, that’s where the work is going. The work can look a lot of different ways, including working with organizers and centers, and looking at who’s in the community doing things.”

Lastly, working in this field requires a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. “Think creatively as to how we do this work. In my work engaging with students, increasingly, there’s recognition that needs to be interdisciplinary, and we need to collaborate. The response in the US has been focused on crimes and prosecution, but there’s a real need to envision creative solutions that can expand survivor options,” says Dahlstrom.

Here are some resources for aspiring and current professionals in this field:

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.