Social work is a complex field with a range of specialties for different contexts. At The Exodus Road, our human trafficking social workers are the first line of advocacy for a survivor’s needs during police intervention.
Those needs might be simple: a bottle of water, new clothes, a hug. Or they might be far more complex, such as ensuring that police interviews are trauma-informed and the survivor feels safe enough to give as many details as possible about the abuse they’ve experienced.
When you support the work of The Exodus Road, you’re a part of meeting those needs. Our skilled and compassionate social workers partner with our investigative teams in Thailand, India, Latin America, and the Philippines. This is what their work looks like.
Social workers during a sex trafficking raid
When police use the intelligence that investigators gathered and raid a sex trafficking establishment, The Exodus Road sends social workers with them as often as possible.
In India, our social worker has years of experience. She says:
Police intervention can be frightening, especially when traffickers have lied to those they are abusing about their legal culpability. The women and kids that The Exodus Road’s social workers come alongside often need to be assured that they are not going to be arrested or prosecuted, that police are there to help them.
This is an area where a social worker’s knowledge of how the local legal system works can be crucial. On a recent raid in Thailand, two Freedom Home social workers were able to sit with two newly-freed teenage boys, alleviating their fears by explaining their rights and how the legal system would support them.
Empathy and compassion are central to a social worker’s interactions with survivors of trafficking. This allows them to establish trust with women and kids who have been betrayed and exploited. Having at least one person present whom they know they can trust helps a survivor feel comfortable as they offer testimony to police.
Providing for human trafficking survivors’ immediate practical needs
Survivors exiting sex trafficking often need the simple things like water, a hot meal, clean clothes, soap, shampoo, and a towel. When a social worker is present, they’re able to identify those needs and meet them. This attention to the small things can communicate to a survivor that they are significant.
Between the site of the raid, the police station, a hospital, and aftercare shelters, survivors are moved rapidly between many unfamiliar places. Social workers can often ride with them, explaining where they’re going and ensuring that they have transportation that does not involve sitting in a police car beside the person who trafficked them.
Practical support also includes medical care. Survivors have often endured neglect or injury. Navigating the medical system can be terrifying and re-traumatizing. The Exodus Road’s social workers accompany survivors for medical exams and coordinate ongoing care as necessary. Often, the organization provides financially for that care.
Part of the role of The Exodus Road’s team is simply making themselves available. Because law enforcement and social services agencies are often under-resourced, there are gaps in what local governments are able to provide. The Exodus Road is committed to being present, simply asking “how can we help?”
This might mean providing social workers for a raid, or it might mean supporting the work of social workers that the government has already provided. For example, in the undisclosed Latin American country where The Exodus Road operates, the government does not tend to need The Exodus Road to supply a social worker. However, one of The Exodus Road’s investigators comes from a social work background. They are able to notice key places to support the social workers involved in cases. That can include stepping in to help provide things like school supplies for teenage survivors wanting to resume their interrupted education, as they did in Operation Empathy.
Human trafficking case work
As The Exodus Road continues to expand into human trafficking aftercare, social workers have a key part to play. Survivors of human trafficking are traumatized, without stable work or means of income, and with health or legal challenges that take many years to resolve. Just navigating aftercare services can be a complex ordeal.
Social workers are part of mapping the pathway to healing for a survivor. They coordinate trauma-informed therapy and medical care. They assist with connections to other services. They might even step in to support the legal process. For example, in India, The Exodus Road’s social workers act as key witnesses and testify in court when traffickers are tried.
Human trafficking case work is a key function of the social workers on staff at Freedom Home in Thailand. The Exodus Road’s social workers help advocate for residents throughout their stay at the aftercare house. They also provide case work services to many more survivors of trafficking who are not currently living in Freedom Home.
Our social worker in India often accompanies survivors to court cases, as well as providing testimony when necessary.
Longterm survivor aftercare
Even after a survivor of human trafficking has left residential aftercare services, social workers continue to follow up with them as they reintegrate into their families and cultures. The step into a new job, a new living situation, and a new life can be a scary one. Social workers are there to smooth the road.
These moments seeing survivors bravely step into the life they’ve fought to reclaim are a driving force for The Exodus Road’s social workers. One social worker says:
To ensure that survivors have these things, social workers sometimes visit them at their homes in addition to staying in touch over the phone. This consistent attention is key for preventing women and kids who have left sex trafficking from feeling like they have no option but to return.
The impact of human trafficking social workers
In human trafficking social work, there are defined outcomes like successful aftercare services administered and meals, clothes, and other resources provided. But the impact is best measured in less tangible terms: a teenage girl receiving her first consensual hug in years. A boy filled with pride as he sits in a classroom beside his peers. A woman standing beside the counter of her beauty salon, knowing that she’s capable of so much more than her traffickers once told her.
“Working as a social worker for The Exodus Road became my passion and dream because helping survivors of human trafficking will be a rewarding treasure for a life,” The Exodus Road’s social worker in the Philippines says.
Will you empower our social workers to provide compassionate and urgent care to women and children who are newly freed from sex trafficking?