Human trafficking is a human rights issue that, unfortunately, happens in every country around the world—and which must be fought from many different angles. In the first part of this month’s series, we discussed the most frequently asked questions about human trafficking. And now that you have a stronger knowledge of the issue, you may wonder what it’s like to work in the field of human trafficking awareness, prevention, and research.
Making an impact on these issues isn’t something that happens overnight—in fact, it takes years. To be in this field, one must be determined, committed, and ready to engage the complexity of the issue. It can be frustrating, as there are no simple solutions to a problem of this magnitude. But, it is a career field in which you will always keep learning; whether it’s about trafficking networks, or culture, or the experience of survivors. And when you do have a breakthrough, it can be extremely rewarding.
I interviewed three of my colleagues from around the world and asked them to share what it is like to devote their careers to human trafficking issues. They are each making great strides in a field that is relatively new, and hopefully will inspire a new generation of leaders to work on human trafficking issues.
Current Position: Liaison Officer, Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia
Location: Mae Rim, Thailand
Background: SriPloy MacIntosh works for the Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA), a trafficking prevention organization and shelter for at-risk and formerly trafficked children in Mae Rim, Thailand.
How did you become interested in trafficking prevention work?
I became involved in prevention work when I began working with COSA. Before working with COSA, I thought downstream approaches (intervening once a child has already been trafficked) were the only ways to fight against child trafficking and child exploitation. COSA helped me realize that prevention through education is a much better way to stop child trafficking, and helps even before trafficking happens.
What are the daily duties of your work?
In this job, there is no typical day. I could be in remote mountain communities doing outreach or I could be in the office in front of my computer all day. I might spend the day in meetings with potential partners or government officials, or leading activities for the girls.
Most days start with me driving my motorbike from downtown Chiang Mai to our shelter, which is about 30km out of town. When I arrive, I sit down with our Program Manager Nicci and our founder Mickey and go through daily updates on finding sponsorships for our girls, current and future programs that we have going on, or other business. From here, I attend to whatever the day demands: meetings, programming for the girls, working with international volunteers, getting ready for outreach trips, or anything else that may need to be done.
Weekends are my special time to spend with our girls because they don’t have school. We do activities together, and often we have group or individual talks about their personal lives.
What are some of the biggest successes you have seen in your work? Are there any challenges, and how do you overcome them?
We have had so many successes that bring about meaningful change. But, for me, the biggest successes I’ve seen in my work were after I led a workshop for our girls on “How a Person Becomes a Sex Worker.”
At first I didn’t know what to expect, because this issue is fairly sensitive. But during the workshop, it became clear to me just how at risk many of the girls were due to a lack of awareness. So many of our young girls have seen their friends at school leave the village to work in places that are actually outlets for the sex trade—and they don’t recognize that this isn’t normal.
In Thailand, many young women enter the sex trade by being offered jobs at bars making drinks, which leads to spending time entertaining guests. The girls are told it’s normal to sit on guest’s laps and let guests touch them. Touching soon leads to other things. While this may seem obvious, most of these girls come from very remote locations and do not know what is normal and not normal. If you are taken from a remote village—where all you have known is the village—and you enter a new place at a young age and you are told this is what normal is, and all the other girls around you are acting like this, then this is what normal becomes.
Now, I know that our girls have the knowledge and skills to say “no” when they are approached by traffickers or when their friends come back to the village with lots of money and invite one of our girls to go to work with them. The girls now know that if a family member takes them to the city and leaves them to work at a bar, that this is not normal—this is the first step towards being forced into the sex trade. This is a prime example of the power of knowledge. It has been so comforting to see the change that this one workshop offered our girls.
What was the biggest lesson you learned since starting at COSA?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that preventing child trafficking through education is not something that can be done overnight, in three months, or even in 10 years. We can’t stop 100% of child trafficking. But, we have helped many young children by preventing it from happening in so many cases. Each step we have taken has shown the communities we work with that education can be a choice for their children and that there are other options than the sex trade.
Next, before joining COSA, most of my experience had been in for-profit businesses. Working at COSA has taught me a lot about working in a donor-funded environment—we are constantly seeking sponsors for our girls, for projects, and for the operation of COSA itself. In business, if you need more funding, you work harder, attract investors, or change your operating model. With an organization like COSA, you are limited by the number of donors—and this has been a huge learning opportunity for me.
Also, learning how many young children are trafficked into the sex trade each year was shocking. When I talk about our girls, I am talking about girls who were trafficked as young as three years old. Most are between the ages of 7 and 11 years old. I do not think most people realize how many very young people are trafficked—and how young these children really are.
How can people in Thailand and around the world get involved with trafficking prevention? Do you have any suggestions or tips?
Anyone can be involved with trafficking prevention by raising awareness. They can easily search for more information about trafficking prevention online. It is important that people all over the world realize that there are children who have been forced into the sex trade working everywhere, not just in countries on the other side of the world. Of course, sponsoring a child or a program at an NGO who works to prevent trafficking would help very much!
What is your favorite part of your work at COSA?
My favorite part of being at COSA is seeing our girls walking home from the school, laughing, singing or even whining about their homework. Seeing this makes me feel that they are safe and that nothing or no one can make them at risk for being trafficked.
More Voices From the Field
Meet Ali Wolf, who recently conducted an eight-month independent research project on human trafficking throughout the United States.
Iveta Cherneva got involved in the field of human trafficking after her cousin was trafficked—and escaped. Read on for an interview about her work.