Showcasing Action: The McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Symposium

Last week, The McCain Institute hosted a Human Trafficking Symposium as a part of their Human Trafficking Conversation Series. The Institute began the conversation series to increase awareness about human trafficking and spark dialogue that connects practitioners in the movement. The symposium brought leaders and survivors in the movement on stage to share the work they are doing to take action and to hear their suggestions for policy and systemic change.

The symposium began with a panel entitled “Leadership in Action,” featuring John Clark, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Clark discussed the blurred lines in anti-trafficking work and action, particularly relating to the right to privacy and the internet. The “Dark Web,” which Clark described as a place where youth can be bought and sold like ordering a pizza, must be controlled to stop trafficking. However, given the right to privacy, Clark expressed the difficulty of designing public policy that respects the line of privacy while simultaneously tackling the issue of trafficking. To get around this difficulty, the NCMEC works on education and prevention campaigns to encourage diligence on the part of youth, parents, and educators.

The panel was followed by an art exhibit entitled “Bought and Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking.” The series, created by Kay Chernush, award-winning photographer and founder of ArtWorks for Freedom, spoke to the experiences of trafficked persons domestically and internationally.

Next was a panel featuring three survivors and leaders in the movement. Entitled “More than Our Stories: A Conversation on the Importance of Survivor Leadership,” which addressed the challenges and progress that survivors see in the movement. Despite the growing attention that trafficking has received, especially in the past five years, the panel agreed that the movement is still very young and must continue to tackle demand, provide opportunities to survivors, and transcend funding stipulations that limit resource allocation to specific populations. Tina Frundt, founder of Courtney’s House, spoke of the dire need for collaboration and consistency in the movement. While trainings are essential, she emphasized that they must be nuanced enough to address all forms of trafficking, and for all populations. In addition, Frundt stressed that funding must be provided without stipulations that limit the number of years or age that an individual can be supported.

Carolyn Jones, Resident Advocate at Streetlight USA, highlighted the difficult yet central position that survivors have in the movement. She described her experience in working with other survivors, explaining how on a daily basis she steps back into her trauma in efforts to promote connection. Despite her work and the vital need for survivor-survivor engagement, survivors are the least paid stakeholders in the movement. Frundt cites that speaker fees are exceptionally low for those who share their life stories.

Ann Wilkinson, Director of Mentor Services at My Life My Choice, added to the importance of survivors in the movement. My Life My Choice pairs survivors of trafficking with at-risk individuals or recently trafficked persons. Mentors are all survivors and can therefore understand and relate to their mentees’ experiences. The program’s success sheds light on the importance of survivors’ roles in the anti-trafficking movement.

The Symposium was an inspiring platform to showcase action in the field and encourage collaboration among practitioners. More broadly, the conversation series continues to shed light on progress in the anti-trafficking movement. 

Firas Nasr is the Director of Communications at Human Trafficking Search. 

Photo Credit: The McCain Institute