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Building Relationships to Support Trafficked Youth

Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Traffickingwas developed as an anti-human trafficking toolkit to support CHV staff and partner organizations in serving youth at risk of, currently experiencing, or those who have survived human trafficking and/or exploitation.   

Of the thousands of young people who find safety at Covenant House:

  • 20% are survivors of human trafficking in the U.S. and Canada
  • 31% of our shelter residents in the U.S. and Canada who identify as 2SLGBTQAI+ have experienced trafficking

Sex and labour trafficking are the two dominant forms of human trafficking in Canada.

Today, we will be providing an overview of the Service Model section of the toolkit, which is a useful tool for shaping ongoing relational work with the youth towards a goal of expanding safety and opportunity.

Your first interactions with a young person who has been trafficked set the foundation of relationship building. How you approach those interactions are crucial because youth, in situations of exploitation, may be reluctant to seek help for many reasons, including fear of reprisal, and lack of trust in social services and officials. While building trust is essential in any social intervention, it is even more important when people have experienced lies, deceit, excessive control, and violence.

All conversations should be trauma-informed conversations. The objective of having a trauma-informed conversation is to promote safety and well-being, and to create a safe environment for the youth to possibly share their experiences and further engage in services. They following is an overview of elements that go into building a trusting relationship with youth.

Anti-Oppressive Practice: While assisting a youth who has been trafficked, you should always respect and support their decisions regarding their situation. Providing services does not depend on a trafficked person making a particular decision about their situation (e.g., to leave their situation, attend religious services, remaining in contact with their trafficker, report to the police, etc.). Practicing anti-oppression will ensure that the services provided will be free of bias, prejudice, and discrimination.

Do No Harm: Do no harm towards local communities, and ensure that your work does not stigmatize marginalized communities. Only make promises that you can keep and stop the conversation if you feel it is having a negative impact.

Youth may become dysregulated at any stage of engagement; your work then transitions to supporting the youth to regain regulation above all other tasks. Stopping a line of questions, focusing on breathing, returning to the present moment, or exiting a space can aid in regulation.

Harm Reduction: Safety planning is a central tool for harm reduction. Safety planning is about discussing ways to stay safe that may also help reduce the risk of future harm. It can include planning for a future crisis, considering options, and making decisions about next steps. Finding ways to stay and feel safer can be an important step towards healing, and these plans and actions help in decreasing the risk of being hurt. Different youth will have very different needs in their safety planning.

Safety: One of the first needs of a youth who has experienced trafficking is physical and emotional safety. The goal of safety planning is to help youth identify and explore practical and feasible options to increase their safety and decrease exposure to harm.

Safety planning for unsafe relationships: Safety planning is important at various stages of human trafficking, whether it’s while a youth is in the situation, in the process of leaving, or once the youth has left. Identifying unhealthy relationships is a key aspect to preventing and addressing trafficking situations. Many traffickers manipulate intimate relationships as a coercive tool; therefore, safety planning for unsafe relationships must accompany safety planning for experiences of trafficking.

Opportunities: A sustainable model for supporting youth in attaining long-term success, is for them to have access to a reasonable and sustainable standard of living, with opportunities for empowerment. For many trafficked persons, economic opportunities are their primary focus, from the time immediately after they exit a trafficking situation, through to the longer-term healing process. Economic options contribute to social integration, including social contact, social context, time structure, and social identity, all of which affect people’s health and mental health status. Recreational activities provide a sense of belonging in the community and improve communication skills and relationships with others. Activities that get us out and about can make us feel happier, more relaxed, and part of a supportive community.

Some opportunities, which may help support youth to succeed, are:

  • Life skills training
  • Job training
  • Finding employment
  • Financial management
  • Recreation

For more information about what has been presented here, Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Trafficking is available in English and French, and can be downloaded as a PDF.

Stay tuned for future posts that feature this toolkit.