Friday, May 6, 2011

Aftercare Services for International Sex Trafficking Survivors

Increasingly, I've been hearing from human service providers in North Carolina communities that they are being asked to offer help to international sex trafficking survivors who have been rescued or escaped from traffickers. These providers include child protection workers, domestic violence advocates, sexual assault advocates, as well as social workers in many settings (e.g., health care, mental health, substance abuse). These providers also describe the challenge of trying their best to help vulnerable trafficking survivors with little guidance about best practices. Providers want to help survivors to recover and live safe, independent lives. However, providers are not always certain about what services to offer because survivors' problems are so complex and traumas so severe.

To help address these important information needs, Natalie Johns and I conducted a research study. This research was recently published in the journal Trauma, Violence and Abuse. You can find the article abstract here and download the article here.

Here I want to mention that when we worked on this research, Natalie was a graduate student in the UNC at Chapel Hill Schools of Public Health and Social Work. Natalie's interest in and passion about this topic helped to galvanize my own interest in and commitment to the issue of sex trafficking. So, this research also shows how creative and productive collaborations between faculty and students can be.

For this study, Natalie and I systematically reviewed and synthesized 20 documents addressing the needs of and services for international survivors of sex trafficking into the United States. Through this work, we found that trafficking survivors need a continuum of aftercare services to address their changing needs as they move from initial freedom to recovery and independence. From these research findings, we created a service delivery framework to help providers with developing programs for survivors. We hope that this framework will be useful for human service providers throughout the United States who are trying to develop new programs for trafficking survivors in their communities.

Our research findings also showed the many challenges human service providers will face in developing such programs. For example, we need increased policy attention about how best to fund all the aftercare services that trafficking survivors will need. Our study also showed how little research attention has been given to evaluating existing aftercare service delivery programs. We also encourage anti-trafficking advocates, service providers, and policy makers to collaborate with researchers to evaluate aftercare programs whenever possible.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Survivor-to-Survivor Project

Partner violence is a complex, frightening and overwhelming problem. For those seeking safety, it can be difficult to know where to begin, what to do, and how best to seek help. Likewise, family and friends who are concerned about partner violence survivors often want to offer help, ideas and resources. However, like the survivors themselves, family and friends do not always know where to turn or what to do.

Fortunately, a new website can help survivors, as well as their family and friends with such information. The web-based, Survivor-to-Survivor project began because three North Carolina partner violence survivors wanted to ensure that others who are seeking safety would have readily accessible, helpful information. The Survivor-to-Survivor project aims to help survivors understand and navigate the complex systems that offer help and resources, including the court and legal systems, domestic violence shelters, and victims' compensation.

The Survivor-to-Survivor project is a documentary-style resource guide designed to provide a visual toolkit of North Carolina partner violence help and resources. The website provides information on safety planning, children and partner violence, and a detailed list of resources. The website also provides tailored information to specific groups of partner violence survivors, including survivors in military communities, survivors with disabilities, and Native American survivors, as a few examples.

Partner violence survivors, as well as North Carolina partner violence experts, helped to develop this web-based resource. However, without the outstanding work and dedication of its directors, this project would never have happened. Cynthia Hill, who is an award-winning Durham-based documentary filmmaker, directed the project. Janeen Gingrich, who is the Director of Development at Legal Aid of North Carolina, is the project's co-director. (Detailed information about the project directors, funders, and production team can be found here.)

A considerable challenge to ending partner violence is informing survivors about the available help and resources. The wonderful Survivor-to-Survivor project is another way that we can all spread the word that it is possible to live safely and free from violence.


Sunday, February 13, 2011


In every published research article there is a space to recognize the people who helped make that particular research study possible: The Acknowledgments. Typically, the people that get a mention in the acknowledgements are colleagues who helped with the research by offering a good idea or by reading a draft of the article and providing feedback.

Interestingly, the people that rarely get a mentioned in this section of the paper are the people who participated in the research. So, the acknowledgements section of scientific article is an interesting and funny place. Of course, I should acknowledge my wonderful colleagues who help me with my research. However, without people who are willing to fill out my surveys, provide their opinions, or participate in my research interventions, my studies could never happen.

Often there are very good reasons not to name participants in the acknowledgements or in any part of a research article. Protecting participants' confidentiality and anonymity is critically important in most studies. Such protections are paramount in my research, which is concerned with violence, victimization and survivorship. Still, there are times when I wish I could publically say "Thanks!" to my participants. From my point of view, research participants are the unsung heroes of science.

Recently, I had one of those times when I wanted to acknowledge and say "thank you" to a group of participants. I had a research article published in the journal Violence Against Women. The article described the findings from an exploratory, qualitative study that provided information about helpful, promising practices in domestic violence and sexual assault services. The article reported on findings from 14 in-depth interviews with North Carolina domestic violence and sexual assault agency advocates and directors.

In these interviews, I asked advocates and directors their opinions about what services are most helpful for survivors. After analyzing the data, my research team and I determined findings about (1) critical services for survivors; (2) essential service delivery practices; (3) ideal services that are challenging to deliver because of funding and other barriers; and (4) areas of service delivery practice uncertainty due to a lack of best practices. If you are interested in this study and the research findings from this article, you can read the full piece here.

What I did not get to say in this article is how incredibly helpful and essential the 14 participants were to this research study. Clearly, I could not have conducted this research without the 14 advocates and directors who were willing to give me their time and opinions. Equally important was how welcoming and friendly each of the participants was to me. None of these research participants knew me well and most did not know me at all before I invited them to participate. However, they were all willing to give me their time, as well as their honest opinions and insights.

Beyond the findings presented in this research article, these 14 participants also gave me insights and understandings into their daily lives and their work. Before I conducted this study, my comprehension of what it takes to provide safety services day-in-and-day-out was limited at best. These study participants educated me about the challenging realities of their work, as well as the incredible sense of accomplishment that they have after a job well done.

I can never name or publically acknowledge these participants. As part of my research protocols, I promised all that their participation in this study would remain confidential. Nonetheless, I still would like to thank them here- as publically as possible- for their participation in this study. I would like to give every one of you heartfelt thanks for your participation in this research. Your time, insights and opinions enabled me to write this research article. More importantly to me personally, your participation helped me to understand how important our community-based domestic violence and sexual assault programs are. So thank you all very much.