Human Trafficking

Helping Immigrant and Refugee Trafficking Survivors

By: Amanda Smith, CA, and Samantha Salamon, ESQ

Immigrants and refugees (I&R) are vulnerable communities due to their lack of English skills and knowledge of their rights, which makes them more susceptible to forms of victimization, including human trafficking. As a service agency, knowing how to best help and eliminate barriers for survivors is crucial. The I&R community face the additional barriers of language access and immigration consequences, which could ultimately exacerbate their trauma. C.L.I.C. is a simple and quick way to help you remember some common challenges and barriers immigrant and refugee survivors face. While not all encompassing, this is a guide to help recognize and overcome these challenges.

C- Culture and Religion 

Culture consists of many things, including food, drink, religion, beliefs, traditions, rituals and much more. Culture is a beautiful thing; it can provide resilience and pride but can also reinforce negative qualities as well, such as patriarchy and gender roles. It is important to consider cultural differences when working with a survivor.  One example of a cultural difference is that in certain cultures talking to someone of the opposite sex may not be acceptable. Other things to keep in mind are eye contact, body language, personal space, social norms, and beliefs can all differ between cultures. Understanding more about someone’s culture can not only help with services provided but also help you build trust and rapport with a client. A survivor is an expert in their own culture and asking questions about their culture not only helps you learn but also helps them feel empowered. 

L-Language access and accessibility

One of the biggest barriers clients face is competent language access. What does competent language access look like?

  1. Unbiased interpreting (Not using family/friends to interpret)
  2. Right language but also the right dialect
  3. Interpreter preference from client (some clients may not be able to talk to a male) 
  4. Language comprehension – making sure the survivor understands the language the interpreter is using and at a level they can comprehend. 

Along with competent access to an interpreter, the next key thing to consider is if your organization is accessible to immigrant and refugee clients. This could include:

  1. Brochures and important documents translated to the main languages in your community (make sure you understand the various languages spoken in your community)
  2. Transportation for clients, are you on a bus line, have bus passes or funds for uber/lyft/cab?
  3. Quick access to interpreters for immediate situations.

I- Immigration Status

For many trafficking clients their trafficker may have used their immigration status against them. Even when someone is legally here it is common for traffickers to lie and threaten the survivor with deportation. Because of this, many immigrant and refugee trafficking victims may be fearful of getting help and ultimately, reporting their victimization. It is always best practice to involve an immigration attorney to help the client. An attorney can help them if they are undocumented with filing for certain reliefs to be able to stay here legally.  Lastly, it is also important to know your agency’s policy on undocumented individuals and your relationship with Immigration Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.), especially if you are working with an undocumented trafficking survivor. 

C- Complex Trauma

I&R survivors are coming to you for help with their trafficking situation, but we must be cognizant of the holistic situation that survivor is in. This would also include previous traumatic events they have experienced in their past that got them to where they are today. Past trauma for an immigrant and refugee may include:

  1. Child/adolescent experiences which can include: female genital mutilation, married at a young age or an arranged marriage, lack of medical access for females, child molestation, losing a parent, and more.
  2. Trauma in country-of-origin experiences which can include: separated from loved ones, fleeing and leaving everything behind, ethnic cleansing, witnessing wars, discrimination, witnessing death and violence and more.
  3. Trauma stress in a hosting country or in refugee camp experiences can include: trying to gather appropriate documents to be able to leave, poverty and uncertainty for the future, separated from loved ones, friends, and extended family, forced labor, isolation, and more.
  4. Trauma and stress in the U.S. even before victimization which can include: adapting to a new culture, being away from support systems, language and cultural differences, financial burdens, learning new systems and more. 

These past traumas can not only affect how they handle their trafficking victimization but also their trust, willingness to be open, and their overall decision-making process. Knowing about their past trauma and how it interacts with the current trauma is critical in adequately providing long-lasting and impactful services to your client.

Using C.L.I.C is an effective and easy way to help remember the barriers and challenges an immigrant and refugee trafficking survivor may face. It is important to remember that each survivor you come across will be different and react to their trauma differently. The best thing you can do is offer support, resources, and work to eliminate barriers to care for the survivor you are working with. If you are in need of more resources or training please reach out to the collaborative.