Villain, Victim, or Savior?

Villain, Victim, or Savior?

A classic story involves a damsel in distress and a cruel, disillusioned villain. After arduous realities, the damsel is saved by a heroic mess of testosterone and the world is set right. The villain is banished to a castle in the abyss for all eternity while the damsel and her prince live happily ever after.

There are two points to this introduction.

The first is that without the villain, there’s no plot, or story. The identified evil would be absent. With no antihero, there is no need for justice (or prosecution). The villain must be present to illuminate the need for redress and to recognize the inherent nature of the crime and stop it at the source.

My second point is that narratives are the facilitators of human connection. As children we learn empathy through the triumphs and tribulations of the stories. The narratives connect us to people and things we may not otherwise attempt to understand.

Why or how are these two points connected in the field of human trafficking?

Let me set some context. Human trafficking was officially defined in Colorado law as  a felony in 2006. One man was convicted for sex trafficking of a minor and adult to mark the first-ever human trafficking conviction under Colorado law in 2011. In 2009, Peruvian sheepherders brought a civil suit against an employer for miscellaneous trafficking atrocities. They won the case. These are some of the few cases brought against the perpetrators under state anti-trafficking laws that have succeeded in identifying, charging, and convicting the criminals with the intended appropriate laws.

You can find more information about the cases below:

These convictions represent the successes of law enforcement, prosecution, communities, service providers, and the survivors themselves. But how can this be enough? When there are service providers reaching hundreds of people every year who have survived numerous forms of exploitation and/or trafficking, how is it that only a handful of cases have been prosecuted under Colorado’s human trafficking statutes in the past nine years? And how much do we know about the individuals perpetrating these crimes, especially in the midst of such low conviction rates?

The first ever conviction in Jefferson County occurred in 2014 read more about it here:

In fact, I want to hear more about the people who are committing these atrocities and seemingly getting away with them. Instilling pressure on the criminal stops the cycle at it’s core and prevents the victimization of more vulnerable people. What can we learn about the motivations from these criminals? How can we prevent people from becoming perpetrators? Too often, the narrative seems to focus only on victims, which creates the delusion that this issue is one-sided. It most certainly is not.

I am advocating for an appropriate and holistic effort to address all aspects of human trafficking. How can we tell a better story that generates human connection?

A comprehensive approach brings the narrative around full circle generating understanding and universality. If you take the Brothers Grimm, their stories embody the elements of classic stories but are never clear. These tales depict a messy and chaotic parable. This reflects the efforts to end human trafficking. Frequently, the perpetrators are victims themselves and the evil behind the crime is hidden and deceitful to an obvious glance. To manifest a true holistic approach to  end human trafficking, the victim, villain, and savior necessitate extensive research and insight. 


Looking back while moving forward

From LCHT: We're excited to embark on its seventh summer Leadership Development Program with ten fantastic individuals! This summer, participants will be working on several exciting projects, including data collection and analysis for the Colorado Project, event planning for fundraising and organizational events, public relations for the Colorado Project, among others. As we look ahead to what is sure to be an amazing summer, we also take time to reflect as former intern Dawn Carmin shares what the Leadership Development Program meant to her.

Dawn Carmin
US Agency for International Development
Former Intern, Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking

My time at LCHT has been such an asset to me personally and professionally. It's rare to find an organization that provides as much thoughtful consideration, space for discussion, and guidance in leadership development for individuals engaged in complex issues like human trafficking.

Working with LCHT helped prepare me for international development work in post-conflict East Timor and in my work with the US Agency for International Development (USAID)

-- positions that require an ability to analyze complex situations, be emotionally intelligent and responsive, and to explore creative activities that focus assistance in ways that will make the most sense and impact.

Through LCHT's intensive technical trainings on the issue of human trafficking, weekly thematic intern meetings and research projects, I was able to foster an understanding of the complexities of human trafficking and ways in which the anti-human trafficking movement is trying to address them. I have called on my technical skills as an FSO in contributing to the Agency's new Combating -Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) strategy and curriculum for the employee orientation on the issue. I've also been able to support the USAID mission to Ukraine and the Government of Ukraine in its anti-trafficking programming which is carried out by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In addition to fostering a solid technical capacity, my time with LCHT's Leadership Development Program provided me with responsibility and leadership opportunities. I was given the chance to educate community groups, professionals and students about human trafficking. I was given the opportunity to lead discussions on social and economic barriers that leave individuals at risk as well as ways that people can help support the C-TIP movement. I also helped interview new interns and got to participate in some management activities of the program from which I learned so much.

Of all the leadership opportunities at LCHT, my favorite was being a mentor to a high school student engaged in a trafficking awareness project for her peer group. In this role, I was called on to support her C-TIP education, but also to help her realize her project and to be a role model for her classmates.

As an intern, graduate research assistant and participant in the Leadership Program Development I found mentors, teachers and friends who have continued to help me grow and who have created an environment where individuals feel empowered to
make meaningful changes to social, economic and cultural barriers that place individuals at risk for trafficking.

I still consider myself a part of the LCHT community and appreciate being able to call upon my former colleagues at LCHT.

The ways in which Amanda, AJ and the LCHT team lead the organization reflects an extremely deep dedication to finding creative and sustainable solutions to difficult development and human rights challenges, as well as fostering leadership in individuals poised to affect change in the world.