In July and August, eight Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report Heroes collaborated with U.S. government officials and human trafficking advocates in Minneapolis and Miami as part of a month-long virtual International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project. They gathered virtually to discuss best practices and lessons learned with a shared goal of furthering anti-trafficking responses in their respective home countries. This is just the latest example of the impressive ways in which the IVLP has modified its programming to a virtual landscape since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 TIP Report Heroes were honored for their anti-trafficking work at the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report before embarking on their virtual IVLP journey. This year’s program highlighted the importance of international exchanges in addressing human rights issues with a particular focus on the relationships between government and the NGO community.
Through meetings with nonprofit advocacy groups and government representatives in the United States, the group learned about the American advocacy network used to combat human trafficking, and gained important insight into connecting public and private citizens around the issue. The TIP Report Heroes met with the Polaris Project, the Human Trafficking Legal Center, Freedom Network USA, among other NGOs, as well as the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Labor.
The participants returned to their home organizations with innovative ideas to engage with different sectors of society and support the fight to end trafficking. While they each have unique perspectives and experiences with human trafficking, all of the TIP Report Heroes emphasized the importance of engaging civil society and forming community-based solutions. For instance, Sister Imelda Poole works to advance advocacy, outreach, and rehabilitation services to combat human trafficking in Albania. After speaking at an NGO roundtable, Sister Poole stressed the need to “empower members to understand the problem.” She discussed how cyber education, working with vulnerable young people, and providing vocational training will help empower her community.
Notably, the participating NGOs and TIP Report Heroes all agreed that the best way to empower a community is by emphasizing the stories of survivors, or those with lived experiences, of human trafficking. The Polaris Project highlighted its “Survivor Survey” resources with the TIP Report Heroes and offered best practices on how to support, empower, and create an advocacy network through survivors of human trafficking in their countries. The survey is a survivor-led tool used to gather data from a national trafficking hotline and, through survivor stories, to share with other organizations. Through these newfound connections, the TIP Report Heroes were able to better understand the roles of each part of society in addressing the problem.
Community-led issues must be addressed by community-based solutions, an idea central to the International Visitor Leadership Program. Through this person-to-person exchange, the TIP Report Heroes expanded their resource and support networks, and established international connections for sharing collective best practices. Connecting with American nonprofit professionals, advocates, government officials, and attorneys through storytelling, resource sharing, and cultural dialogue, the TIP Report Heroes are now turning these discussions into action and incorporating the newfound knowledge into their own organizations.
About the Author: Olivia Estes served as an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Public Affairs section.