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Value of Non-Governmental Organizations in Countering Human Trafficking

This is the first of four human trafficking articles to appear in the monthly NAAGazette. These articles are the work of attorneys who participated in the June 2011 National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute (NAGTRI) International Fellows Program. Human trafficking is also the focus of NAAG President and Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna’s 2011-2012 presidential initiative.

In this article, Fellows from Bosnia, Iraq, Ukraine, and the United States analyzed the value of non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) participation in countering human trafficking. Issues the fellows considered included: How can the media assist in the effort to stop this crime? What is the best way to raise awareness, build consciousness of the issue, and disseminate information? How important is NGO participation in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking crime? How can government encourage participation by NGOs when there is a feeling of distrust? Is there a methodology by which government can help the creation and/or funding of NGOs who will address human trafficking? If there is no NGO participation, who will provide services to victims? In what way can NGOs be effective in countering human trafficking? How can businesses participate in this initiative?

By Amir Abdul Kareem Al-Khayon, a member of the Executive Office of the Union of Iraq Jurists and member of the Legal Committee in the Supreme Iraq Bar Association; Jeanette Manning , Chief, Neighborhood & Victim Services, District of Columbia Attorney General’s Office; Suada Pasic, cantonal prosecutor, Sarajevo; Kirk Torgensen, chief deputy, Utah Attorney General’s Office; and Olena Trapeznikova, representative of state interests in international courts, Ukraine.

Each country represented in this group has encountered problems with both labor and sex trafficking. We understand that collaborating with NGOs is essential in all facets of addressing the crime of modern-day trafficking, especially in three pivotal ways: Debilitating traffickers by assisting prosecution, protecting victims, and educating citizenry.

This brief paper focuses on the definition, role, and value of NGOs in assisting prosecutors and the global community to bring awareness to the plight of victims and the issue of human trafficking, bring cases to the attention of prosecutors and essential government and legislative officials to strengthen laws, and appeal to the private business industry to obtain additional sponsors, receive financial and media support, and reach mass populations so that this issue is at the forefront in the crusade to end trafficking. Through all of these efforts, which essentially require creativity in all available fronts to comprehensively address human trafficking, the goals of the three “P’s” ― prevention, protection and prosecution ― can be fully accomplished.

Definition of a Non-Governmental Organization

An NGO is an institution or organization, commonly non-profit in nature and fully independent from the government, which is organized to focus on addressing a particular common interest. NGOs can perform a variety of services and functions that may include bringing citizen concerns to governments; advocating or monitoring policies; encouraging political participation through distribution of information; and participating in a direct service provider role. They can also provide analysis and expertise, provide warning mechanisms, and help to monitor and implement laws and agreements, both internationally and domestically.

Specifically in the context of human trafficking, there are many NGOs globally that focus on different aspects of human trafficking from fund raising to providing direct services to victims of trafficking to working closely with government officials to strengthen laws and collaborate on prosecutions. In our discussion group, we have learned that some countries are more advanced in their utilization of NGOs than others. As such, it is abundantly clear that much more work should be done to develop relationships with NGOs so that a true partnership that fosters a relationship by which government entities and NGOs can rely upon one another in helping to eradicate or significantly lessen the flow of human trafficking.

Specific Mechanisms Involving NGO Participation to Counter Human Trafficking

Although there are a myriad of ways by which NGOs can assist in countering human trafficking, our group focused on identifying key, but general concepts, by which to improve the relationship with NGOs, respect their role, and bring awareness to the issue. These suggestions are not meant to be an exhaustive list in any regard. They are simply intended to provide a snapshot of concepts that can begin the discussion on ensuring that the work to combat human trafficking is collaborative in scope and that there is full participation by all aspects of civil society to bring focus and attention to the issue.

NGO Awareness Campaign Through Media and Businesses

The group began with the media because it is believed to be the most effective in reaching large numbers of people. Although there has been more discussion about human trafficking in the recent past, it is still an issue that is often unnoted or given little attention in some countries and some sectors of the public. This is true for a variety of reasons: a complete lack of understanding; the unwillingness of governments to acknowledge that the problem exists in their countries; unavailable laws or lack of resources to truly combat the problem; or a lack of concerted efforts to fully address the issue. Given the nature of our society to rely heavily on the media, including social networks both internationally and domestically, we believe the media is a great place to start in an effort to bring awareness to the crime, heighten the consciousness of the general public, and raise funds for NGOs so that they can continue their outreach and, hopefully, provide more direct services to victims.

  • NGOs should reach out to media outlets, particularly major media outlets, to run public service announcements (PSAs). It would be particularly effective if there were a “blitz” campaign by media outlets to inform the public to recognize warning signs and raise awareness of the existence of human trafficking in individual countries. Effective PSAs should include a genuine story about individuals who have been a victim of human trafficking, including a victim of labor trafficking and a victim of sex trafficking. Genuine stories impact the spirit of humanity in individuals and provide a glimpse into the reality of the human trafficking criminal enterprise that survives by operating hidden from view. Different PSAs should run in individual countries to resonate with the intended audience, e.g., if a PSA is to run in the United States, there should be a clear connection to the United States. Similarly, PSAs run in Iraq should focus on victims within Iraq. Media in both the United States and Ukraine have run such PSAs. All members of the group agreed, however, that much more media attention is necessary. Information can be posted on city and rural billboards, on buses and other forms of public transportation, in gas stations, and in newspapers and PSAs run on television, radio, Twitter, and Facebook. These messages must catch the attention of the audience, requiring different approaches for different countries, but they must all be clear enough to push the message out to all members of society.
  • NGOs should particularly concentrate on large media outlets, such as BBC and CNN, which recently began its own campaign against human trafficking, called the Freedom Project. The ability of a media outlet such as CNN to promote awareness and cause change is illustrated by its account of a young Iraqi boy who was severely injured and disfigured after intentionally being doused with gasoline and set on fire while playing outside his home. After CNN reported on this atrocity, monies were donated through CNN and the child and his family were moved to the United States, housed in California, and provided with medical attention. In another example of CNN’s consciousness of media’s ability to promote societal change, the network annually hosts an awards program to honor those globally who have made a difference in their communities. By highlighting the work of such individuals, CNN raises awareness of social problems throughout the globe.
  • NGOs can also use open programming, such as appearing on talk shows on television and radio, to provide information about human trafficking and encouraging others involved in the issue, such as lawyers, mental health providers, and psychologists to talk about issues surrounding victims and prosecuting the traffickers. Bosnia has found success in using this model.
  • NGOs should also work with governments to establish a national hotline to report human trafficking and obtain information about services. Those numbers should be heavily advertised through media outlets.
  • Celebrities have a particular ability to bring the human trafficking issue to the forefront. With both the media status awarded because of their celebrity status and the financial wherewithal to fund activities, they are able to both raise awareness and raise funds for victim assistance. It is important that the conversation not be about the celebrities, but their stature in popular culture means that their message reaches a larger audience, particularly the youth audience, with more impact. NGOs, therefore, should reach out to celebrities through their publicists and other avenues to pitch the importance of getting them to collaborate with NGOs or other media outlets to bring awareness to the issue.
  • Given the massive attention to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, use of these media will often reach an audience that would not be involved with other forms of communication. Facebook, in particular, has demonstrated a desire to utilize its site as a means to get advertisers to invest in its company. NGOs might reach out to Facebook and encourage it to sponsor messages about human trafficking, perhaps even alerting those who might become victims as to how they can become ensnared in a trafficking scenario.
  • Working with private companies to both promote awareness and ensure that their own supply channels are not involved in human trafficking is another way the NGOs can reach outside their community to tackle the issue. By encouraging companies to take leadership roles in helping to stem trafficking, NGOs will have developed other partners in this important effort.

Education and Awareness Building

The role of the media in awareness building has been outlined above. However, it is important to determine the audience and to craft the messages to the audience that needs to be reached.

  • It is essential that members of each community understand that force, fraud, and coercion are the methods by which victims become involved in human trafficking. Thus, it is as important to get out the message to destination countries and communities within those countries as to the signs of trafficking as it is to ensure that those living in poor and rural communities in developing countries be aware of how traffickers trap their victims.
  • NGOs should assist hospitals in training their medical professionals and emergency medical technicians as to the warning signs of trafficking. NGOs could also design curriculum and give training to teachers to educate children in schools. In the United States, for instance, teenagers, particularly with challenging backgrounds, are often targeted at malls. In other countries, particularly Bosnia and Ukraine, our group agreed that it is essential to go into the schools to reach young people who may become the targets of traffickers. In countries where the children do not go to school, NGOs could provide the vital task of talking to parents about the methods traffickers use to recruit family members.
  • NGOs should enlist embassies issuing visas to include information, in writing and orally, that informs visitors to their countries about their rights should they become victims of trafficking and how they can reach out for help in the event that they do become victims. The group proposed that a NGO representative serve as a consultant for embassies in destination and feeder countries to keep better track of persons who are leaving and entering another country by checking the status of people’s visas and visiting sites where these people are allegedly working. For those individuals who have entered countries illegally, NGOs can develop relationships with business entities such as hotels and farms to better monitor the nature of activities occurring in their businesses. NGOs can also monitor the Internet to bring attention to sites that advertise sex.
  • NGOs have the unique ability to educate law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on victim trauma and the needs of victims to empower them to become survivors and be ready to assist in bringing their traffickers to justice. Human trafficking is an exceedingly complex issue that often requires a change of focus on the part of law enforcement to a victim-centered approach. Teaching law enforcement how to interview and ask the appropriate questions of potential victims and prosecutors how to handle trauma in a courtroom setting will assist in the successful prosecution of traffickers. It is especially important that those involved in the law enforcement and legal community recognize the importance of not re-victimizing the already traumatized human trafficking victim.
  • Relationship building is also a key element to education. NGOs should assist willingly in task forces formed to address trafficking. These task forces can together help to educate the community about human trafficking. Furthermore, NGOs and those in the law enforcement and prosecution community throughout the globe must do a better job of working together to educate one another regularly on their individual roles, expectations, and ultimate goals. Without question, NGOs who are involved in victim services have a different agenda from prosecutors who are focused on seeing that the trafficker is brought to justice. Working within a task force setting will help NGOs come to a fuller appreciation of law enforcement and prosecutors’ roles. Mutual respect is key to building successful relationships so that all can work together to accomplish the goal of eliminating human trafficking.


The group discussed many ways in which funding can serve as a vehicle to assist victims of human trafficking. Although it is difficult to find funding in the current economy, we all believe that this is mandatory in order to ensure that victims receive necessary services for shelter, for psychological assistance, medical care, and the other myriad needs that victims have. The following suggestions provide very general ideas that NGOs internationally might use to obtain additional funding in order to assist victims.

  • Grant Funding: We suggest that small committees be formed, where prosecutors and NGOs work together to identify various sources of money that may be available through the government. For instance, in the United States, the federal government provides grant monies that are available to organizations and government entities that provide very specific services. As such, it is suggested that NGOs look for such available sources of money and regularly apply for grants in an effort to obtain funding.
  • United Nations, International Monetary Fund, and Similar Organizations: We also suggest that NGOs develop relationships or utilize current relationships with these international organizations to look for opportunities to obtain financial resources to combat human trafficking and render victim assistance. We suggest, for instance, that a reparations pot of money be developed, akin to what South Africa allowed after the end of apartheid, whereby individuals who have been designated as victims of human trafficking can apply for money through the UN to be compensated.
  • Crime Victims’ Reparation in State Laws: In most states in the United States and under a different name in other countries, reparation laws have been established to assist victims of human trafficking. NGOs can work with those governments that do not have such laws to establish them. Perhaps laws could be designed that would give a portion of any recovery in a racketeering case to help fund NGOs to provide for victims.
  • Socially responsible businesses are a vital source of funding for NGOs. Working with such businesses, NGOs may find support both from the business itself and from its employees.


We were asked whether a brochure might be developed to help educate the community regarding human trafficking. A simple and abbreviated handout that could accompany more extensive educational outreach might be helpful. Such a brochure might contain examples of trafficking victims, highlight the indicators of trafficking, and provide a hotline number where victims can call to receive immediate assistance or report suspected incidents of trafficking.

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