Organizations Prioritizing a Survivor-Centered Approach

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As advocates, we have so many opportunities to share stories. Stories are important when it comes to the fight to end human trafficking as they help us to re-evaluate our attitudes and perspectives. Many times the stories we share are not our own, and for this reason, we need to be careful with how we approach sharing stories of survivors. It may be tempting to think we know how to best summarize their stories or to feel like we have a unique understanding of the services they might need, but the truth is that the most equipped person to share survivor stories are the survivors themselves. 

In the past several years that I’ve been researching about human trafficking and working in the field with survivors, it’s been encouraging to find several organizations that prioritize space for survivors to express themselves and be actively involved in the fight for freedom. It’s critical that we recognize survivors holistically, acknowledging that they are multi-faceted individuals with more to offer than simply their first-hand knowledge of trafficking. Here are just a few organizations doing incredible work for and with survivors. 

National Survivor Network (NSN)

In February 2011, The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) established the National Survivor Network (NSN), in hopes of building relationships between trafficking survivors across the spectrum. CAST does a great job at bringing survivors to the forefront by recognizing them as leaders. Members span over 24 countries including Ghana, India, Indonesia, Columbia and the United States. The NSN focuses on survivor-led advocacy and mentorship, which allows all survivors to share their experiences and empower one another regardless of the type of trafficking they’ve overcome. Members are also actively involved in changing legislation and collectively composing letters of support for beneficial policies.

Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS)

GEMs was founded in 1998 by Rachel Lloyd in response to a lack of services available to women and young girls who had been exploited and trafficked sexually. Traditional social services agencies weren’t prepared to provide the types of services needed for survivors so Lloyd took action, using her first-hand knowledge as a survivor of trafficking. Fast-forward 20 years and GEMS has grown to include all kinds of services including prevention and outreach, intervention, youth development, educational initiatives and court advocacy. One of the biggest things they have available to survivors is the Survivor Leadership Institute. Lloyd discovered that women who’ve left their trafficking situations often continue to be exploited for years because they haven’t learned to develop their strengths and identities beyond their experiences. Rather than assuming that all survivors should be pigeonholed into being the token representatives for anti-trafficking efforts, they provide multiple outlets for survivors to expand their abilities as leaders in a wide array of fields. GEMs believes that survivors are more than the sum of their trauma and can excel in all fields and their leadership institute exists for just that.

Survivor Speaks

Founded in 2015 by survivor Dee Clarke, Survivor Speaks USA was born out of a desire to address the root of ‘sexploitation’ and the belief that survivors must be on the forefront creating solutions and addressing issues. The central focus of the organization is the Survivor Advocacy Leadership Training (SALT) Program. The 10-month program is facilitated on a weekly basis and teaches survivors how to mentor and train other survivors, how to collaborate with local agencies, how to address obstacles and how to understand legislation and laws in their local area pertaining to trafficking and exploitation. SALT is based in Maine and is a wonderful program in the Northeast US, where there isn’t often representation for anti-trafficking efforts.

These are just a few of the many other organizations that offer a survivor-centered approach. As we strive to be informed and impactful advocates, we must be constantly growing our list of resources that prioritize survivors. Sometimes the best thing we can do is share our knowledge with one another. Learning about best practices is an ongoing journey that we won’t soon reach the end of and it requires a coordinated approach and open communication with survivors. 

Do you know of great organizations offered a survivor-centered approach? Tell us below! 


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About the Author

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Stephanie Ramos is passionate about minimalism, experiencing different cultures, cooking, writing and finding new ways to advocate in the fight against human trafficking. She’s currently employed as an advocate for children and teens in Immokalee, Florida. She is so excited to be a part of the Dressember community in a new way.