An Anti-Oppression Framework is important when working in the area of human trafficking.
Trafficked persons have already experienced extreme forms of oppression. In assisting them and providing support, we do not want to oppress them further.
This framework recognizes that in anti-trafficking efforts (and humanitarian efforts more broadly), there is an inherent power imbalance between the privileged giver of aid and the receiver.
To address this requires continued engagement with critiques of anti-trafficking efforts and a continued desire to rethink and improve the way anti-trafficking is done.
We recognize that in any effort to combat human trafficking, the trafficked person always comes first.
When we assist a person who has been exploited, their ability to make decisions regarding their situation will be respected and supported, no matter the preference or perspective of others.
The provision of services will not depend on a trafficked person making a particular decision (e.g., to leave their situation, attend religious services, report to the police, etc.).
Practicing anti-oppression in our policy development process, campaigns, and engagement with trafficked persons will ensure that the services will be free of bias, prejudice and discrimination.
Oppression is the use of power to disempower, marginalize, silence or otherwise subordinate persons, often to further empower and/or privilege the oppressor.
Oppression operates on personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional levels, with social inequality embedded in our individual values and beliefs with the systems and institutions around us reflecting these inequalities.
Privilege operates on these same levels, but rather than disempowering, marginalizing, and silencing, privilege grants advantages, favours, and benefits to members of dominant groups at the expense of members of oppressed groups.
There are many forms of oppression and we all simultaneously experience different forms of privilege and oppression and oppress others.
Because social inequality is embedded on these various levels, anti-oppression begins with individuals challenging and critically analyzing what we ‘know’ and recognizing power in interpersonal relationships.
An anti-oppressive approach means that we need to respectfully listen to and engage with different approaches to anti-trafficking and the voices of and suggestions of groups that are differently impacted by efforts to combat human trafficking.
This includes respecting groups supporting the rights of racialized migrants, groups that fight against criminalization and increasing the powers of police, and groups supporting the right to engage in sex work.
We are aware of the criticisms of anti-human trafficking practices. We endeavour to acknowledge and engage with these critiques. Common critiques include:
Using anti-trafficking efforts to support conservative moral reform and anti-immigration policies that target negatively racialized migrants.
Feeding into and supporting a larger ‘Rescue Industry’ that is more concerned the interests of its privileged, white, upper middle class volunteers, donors and activists than with helping persons in exploitative situations that result from global structural inequalities.
Perpetuating a harmful and patriarchal ‘victim narrative’ that supports a narrow understanding of what trafficking and trafficked persons look like (female, innocent/naive, helpless, sexually abused, in need of rescue, and unable to speak for themselves).
Supporting increased criminalization of marginalized populations, new forms of colonialism and silencing rather than empowering trafficked persons and exploited migrants.
A Commitment to Working from an Anti-Oppression Framework
Service providers and others working with trafficked persons should:
Ensure that the services provided always put the trafficked person first.
Recognize that trauma is expressed differently in all people.
Provide services and assistance to men, women, boys, girls, and transgendered persons, regardless of the form of trafficking they have experienced.
Offer services and support for sex workers, undocumented workers and other groups who are chronically underserviced.
Respect individual choices through:
Referring trafficked persons to the appropriate services for them, particularly if there are philosophical or value differences.
Contacting law enforcement when the person who has been exploited can choose to do so.
Recognizing that it must be the trafficked person who chooses which services they access and which they refuse, as well as when they access those services.
Collaborate with others by:
Ensuring that trafficked persons have opportunities to actively participate in, lead, and help determine the priorities and nature of support provided by the anti-human trafficking network.
Working in solidarity with impacted communities and supporting their efforts to determine and define their future.
Promoting the need for trafficked and other affected groups to speak for themselves.
Embracing the role of allies who, when requested to do so, support affected groups in a variety of ways defined by them.
Build opportunity, accountability and awareness through:
Creating opportunities for people to develop knowledge and skills to integrate an anti-oppressive approach into their work.
Holding each other accountable to model anti-oppressive behaviour to create a safe space for all.
Learning of the histories and struggles of impacted communities as told and experienced by members of these groups.
Being aware of privilege and taking responsibility for the equitable allocation of space and resources.
Offer respect and recognition by:
Valuing, supporting and making room for different forms of knowledge and skills that diversity brings to the network.
Supporting equitable and inclusive campaigns that promote diverse participation and leadership.
Having an accessible procedure for responding to complaints of violations of the Anti-Oppression Framework and its policies and responding promptly to such complaints.
Recognizing that space may be experienced differently by different people/groups.
Avoiding any bias towards one form of trafficking over another.
Ensure that promotional materials reflect the diversity of Canada and the diversity of affected communities.
Produce materials don’t have a bias towards or against a certain type of trafficking.
Challenge the power structures and systems of oppression which perpetuate injustice.
Create visual campaigns that examine on an ongoing basis what is gained and what is lost when dominant depictions of human trafficking focus on sexualized and abused women and girls.
To fully engage in this framework, we must understand the layers of oppression throughout our society.
- Ableism: Discrimination based on a person’s visible or invisible mental, emotional, and physical disabilities or differences.
- Addictions: Discrimination based on a person’s use of controlled and/or illegal substances.
- Ageism: Discrimination based on a person’s age including youth and seniors.
- Audism: The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears.
- Class(ism): Prejudice or discrimination on the basis of social class.
- Colonialism: Activities or practices that exercise of control over a person or a group of people.
- Criminal background: Discrimination because a person has committed has a crime and/or has a criminal record.
- Culture: Discrimination based on a person’s customs, practices, lifestyle based on their culture.
- Education and perceived intelligence: Discrimination based on a person’s level of education, literacy and a bias based on that level of education.
- Engagement in criminalized or stigmatized work: Discrimination based on a person who is engaged in work that is considered illegal.
- Experience within the Children’s Aid Society system: Discrimination based on a person’s background in the care of the Children’s Aid Society as a non-ward, crown ward or temporary ward.
- Family status: Discrimination based on family composition – single parent, two parent, female led, blended, foster care, adoption, childless, lack of custody, parents not biologically linked to children.
- Forms of exploitation experienced: Prejudice or bias based on how a person has been exploited, such as an indentured worker, debt bondage, sexual exploitation, organ donor, child soldier, forced criminality, forced surrogacy, forced marriage, involuntary servitude (domestic), and peonage.
- Gender and gender identity: Discrimination based on a person’s gender – male, female, transgendered, intersexed.
Heterosexism and heteronormativity: based on the premise that heterosexual behaviour is the only accepted or preferred lifestyle.
Immigration/citizenship status: Discrimination based on a person’s legal status in a country (e.g. undocumented, temporary resident, visitor, student, family class, permanent resident, refugee claimant, protected person, citizen, temporary foreign worker).
Job title/position within an organization: Bias based on a person’s position in a hierarchical setting.
- Language and linguistic abilities: Discrimination based on a person’s ability to speak the dominant language.
- Location: Discrimination based on the area a person lives and/or works in, such as rural/urban, rent/own, quality of housing, neighbourhood, homeless, street involved, persons with no fixed address, and transient persons.
- Marital status: Bias based on a person’s marital status – married, common law, single, divorced.
- Mental health: Discrimination based on a person’s diagnosis or history with mental health services.
- Physical attributes: Discrimination based on a person’s appearance such as height or weight.
- Poverty: Discrimination based on a person’s financial situation and/or in receipt of social assistance such as Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program.
- Race and ethnicity: Discrimination based on a person’s race and/or ethnic background.
- Religion: Discrimination based on a person’s religious and/or spiritual practices, tradition or beliefs.
- Sexual orientation: Discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirited, queer, questioning.