Understanding Vulnerability In Combating Human Trafficking

Blog by Dr. Brenda NavarreteDirector of Mental Health Services and Crisis Intervention at Alabaster Jar Project

Human trafficking happens in every stratum of our society, and anyone can become a victim, but traffickers look for people who are vulnerable and, therefore, easier to exploit. We are better equipped to assist vulnerable populations in protecting themselves when we identify and understand what makes them vulnerable to violence, abuse, and exploitation in the first place.

What makes a person vulnerable? The latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicates that some of the major factors that contribute to people being vulnerable to both labor and sex trafficking globally include:

1) Poverty and Lack of Good Job Opportunities- Traffickers target poor and marginalized communities and offer vulnerable individuals’ false opportunities to improve their circumstances. People in these communities are more likely to take greater risks to provide for themselves and their families.

2) Being a Child- The very nature of being a child is a risk factor. Children are vulnerable to the demands of those in authority. Not only are children at a disadvantage emotionally and cognitively, but they are also at a physical disadvantage to protect themselves. They are usually unaware of any laws that may exist to protect them as well.

3) Political Instability- Political unrest, conflict, and violence create unstable conditions and give people limited options for survival. Political instability can result in forced migration causing people to flee in search of more stable communities. Traffickers capitalize on these desperate circumstances.

4) Gender Inequality- Women are more vulnerable to poverty, lack of viable employment opportunities, rape, domestic violence, harmful traditional practices, and limited access to education. These are all factors that can exacerbate the vulnerability of women and girls to trafficking.

5) Social and Cultural Exclusion- These may be due to race/ethnicity, religion, sexual or gender identity, lack of legal citizenship, etc. Marginalized groups may experience discrimination in education, employment, or access to social services. The discrimination they experience places them at a higher risk of being trafficked.

6) Mental, Behavioral, or Neurological Disorders- People experiencing these difficulties face a variety of challenges, including isolation and limited ability to assess risk, say “no,” or detect ill intentions. Traffickers target these vulnerabilities and manipulate them to their advantage.

7) Abuse/Maltreatment and Family Dysfunctionality- Intimate partner violence, domestic violence, incest, psychological or emotional abuse and neglect, and other forms of trauma can make a person more vulnerable to human trafficking. When left unaddressed, these factors can make someone more easily persuaded by traffickers who take advantage of emotional instability, low self-esteem, a need for love and belonging, or a missing support system.

Trafficking is often the result of years, sometimes generations, of compounding and interrelated vulnerabilities. A focus on vulnerability and the identification of factors that create conditions of vulnerability can propel our work to combat human trafficking by directing our prevention efforts on strategies and programs that alleviate these conditions.  

What role can the church play? God has called His children to care for the persecuted and to reach out to those who are mistreated. While this instruction from Micah is referenced often, we must never grow deaf to the command “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” The church has a calling to step up and serve the mission field of combating human trafficking, and each of us can use our individual gifts to be a part of the solution.  

Understanding vulnerability to trafficking helps us recognize that combating trafficking sometimes takes fewer familiar forms. When we become involved or financially support ministries and organizations serving children in the welfare system, homeless or runaway youth, or parenting programs, we are fighting human trafficking.

When we refuse to become desensitized to the way women and young girls are portrayed in movies and television, we are fighting human trafficking.

When we embrace those who are different from us without judgement, empower the disempowered, destigmatize seeking mental health services, and teach our children and grandchildren to do all of the above, we are fighting human trafficking.

As we serve together, eat together, and worship together as a church body, treating others with grace, compassion, and empathy and acknowledging the complexity of each other’s mental health will build resiliency within the church and those we serve as well as in those we hope to bring into our community. We may never fully know what people have experienced before they arrive at our ministry’s doorstep, but we can create an atmosphere that communicates sanctuary, inclusion, and safety for everyone. We can provide a place where the many who have experienced trauma, marginalization, or instability can find refuge and respite and where potential victims of human trafficking can find alternative courses of action and, ultimately, live lives filled with dignity, purpose, and well-being.

No Comments