Project Free’s Human Rights Approach to Anti-Human Trafficking Work

Project Free’s Human Rights Approach to Anti-Human Trafficking Work

When many people first think about human trafficking in Asian communities, they make a quick association between Asian-owned massage businesses and prostitution. For Womankind’s anti-human trafficking initiative, Project Free, it is critical to expand community awareness beyond these stereotypes to best serve all survivors with respect and dignity, and to address root causes of exploitation in our collective efforts to prevent human trafficking.

As reported in the 2023 Project Free Snapshot, Project Free works with survivors of both labor (64.6%) and sex trafficking (17.7%) across gender lines (55% female; 43% male; and 1% transgender) and from 22 countries of origin. To meet the holistic needs of the over 100 diverse survivors of human trafficking that Womankind serves each year and to validate the preventive factors survivors identified in ending trafficking, Project Free adopted a human rights framework.

Project Free’s Human Rights Approach to Anti-Trafficking Work

For Womankind, a human rights-centering framework recognizes that human trafficking violates an individual’s fundamental rights and personal freedom. This translates into culturally relevant direct services designed to respect and cultivate survivors’ full autonomy and decision-making power on their healing journeys. Examples include case management and supportive counseling, where advocates ensure that survivors lead their own path to healing, often in a language other than English. Survivors also have access to other Womankind programs and services, such as Pathways to Healing and Pathways to Empowerment, where our model of practice is centered.

Human rights-based prevention addresses root causes that make someone more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. This includes intersectional factors, such as poverty, experiencing houselessness, undocumented immigration status, cultural expectations around providing financial support to family, identifying as LGBQTIA+, insufficient workers’ rights and protections, among many more. Responding to needs identified by survivors and those vulnerable to trafficking, such as housing and opportunities for living-wage employment, makes it possible to end human trafficking.

Freedom Network Membership

Celebrating 10 years of membership, Womankind’s Project Free joined Freedom Network USA, a values-based national coalition building in their words, “a transformative approach to human trafficking that is grounded in anti-racism and anti-oppression” in 2014. Our membership strengthens our ability to ensure survivors have equitable access to holistic services and resources and grows our collective power to dismantle systems that create vulnerabilities.

As part of the work being implemented by Freedom Network USA and in collaboration with the Office of Victims of Crime and the Office in Trafficking in Persons, Mary Caparas (Project Free Manager) is working alongside a cohort of experts in the field to develop standards of care for anti-trafficking service providers across the country. By participating in this project, we hope to reflect on previous standards of care, and ultimately help create consistency, dependability and ultimately increase the level of quality services that survivors can expect to access. We come to this with an open mind and a realization that this will be a work in progress with the hope of creating enduring improvements in service provision.

Project Free reaffirms our commitment to a human rights-based approach to anti-trafficking work. We prioritize providing direct services and engaging in advocacy that centers the voices and experiences of the diversity of survivors we serve. If you are interested in learning more about Project Free and anti-trafficking work, please watch our 2024 Trafficking Conference about “Building Rapport in a Gendered Culture.”