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Why Incorporating Voices of Survivors in Program Development Matters

By November 22, 2013 June 25th, 2014 No Comments

I’ve been working in the anti-trafficking field for three-and-a-half years. Needless to say, I am immersed in this issue. I spend a lot of time brainstorming and seeking ideas about how we can leverage technology to prevent the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children.

A key piece in developing innovative approaches to combat child sex trafficking is to gather quantitative and qualitative data from trafficking survivors.

Without survivor input, our anti-trafficking movement risks wasting time and resources — and more importantly, endangering children trapped in dangerous environments.

The stories shared by survivors about their experiences can help illuminate the aspects of trafficking that are hidden in the shadows. How did they meet their traffickers? What technologies did they have access to while they were in a trafficking situation? How did they escape? Including the voices of survivors will ultimately aid in creating effective and targeted anti-trafficking programs.

I understand that there are many challenges in soliciting feedback from trafficking survivors who have gone through terrible ordeals. You don’t want to place too many demands on them or re-traumatize them by asking them to repeat their stories. It’s extremely important to be aware and sensitive to these factors when talking to survivors about their trafficking situations. However, when survivors are willing to open up about their experiences, their insights can help inform and vitalize anti-trafficking work.

At Thorn, we’re interested in how technology is being used to facilitate child sex trafficking and how it can be used to fight it, so we decided to ask survivors.

Last year we launched a nationwide survey of domestic minor sex trafficking victims to understand the role of technology in child trafficking. We have partnered with survivor organizations around the country that are administering the hour-long survey to the survivors they work with.

Slowly but surely, we are gathering data that is starting to inform program development. We have already launched one program based on findings in the survey: A text short code project that enables trafficking victims to discreetly send a text message requesting help to the National Anti-Trafficking Hotline, which is run by Polaris Project.

Some interesting statistics we’ve gleaned from the survey so far:

  • 15 percent of survivors surveyed met their traffickers online, and 82 percent met their traffickers in person.
  • 73 percent of survivors surveyed were advertised online at some point, typically on sites like Backpage and Craigslist.
  • 72 percent of survivors had access to a cell phone while being trafficked.
  • 81 percent of survivors said they wanted help to escape their trafficking situation, but 81 percent said they never saw phone numbers for hotlines offering help.

We plan to publish all the results of the survey, so the entire anti-trafficking field can benefit from the insights provided by survivors.

To learn more and support organizations that help trafficking survivors in the US, please visit:

Learn more about child sexual exploitation in this video, learn more about Thorn’s fight, check out our work, and read more about the child sex trafficking facts and child abuse imagery statistics.