We are a membership, empowerment, and professional development network for survivors of human trafficking engaging in leadership in the movement using a public health, human rights, and harm reduction approach. Members may join who do not entirely agree with every statement or who are still learning about the issues in our statement, as long as they are largely aligned and understand that the NSN’s policy, advocacy, and educational work will be done in alignment with our values statement. If, however, someone finds any of our policies problematic, offensive, or harmful, they should not be a member. We will incorporate a review of values alignment into future interviews with potential members and renewal processes with existing members.
Our initial values statement was drafted by Jess Torres as part of their work as our prior Survivor Leadership Program Coordinator and was the foundation upon which this current statement was built. It was revised, clarified, and strengthened by our restructure team in early 2022. Please see our February 2022 FAQ for more information on our 2022 values clarification process or our Values Orientation Series for an overview of why these values matter and what they mean.
The NSN uses the operational, criminal definition of severe forms of trafficking found in the TRAFFICKING VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT – A person who is exploited through force, fraud, or coercion, or someone who was in the sex trades while a minor. We welcome and prioritize survivors who have experienced human trafficking in any form of labor, and do not conflate trafficking and consensual commercial sex in our values or our membership criteria. See our first orientation post for more information.
The NSN believes in trauma-informed, nonviolent communication, and building survivor-centric cultures of care. We emphasize collective goals, shared facilitation, and active listening, and promote informed, inclusive, and equitable dialogue over debate. We seek to create a space where people acknowledge and strategically leverage their privilege and positionality to increase access for all survivors, where resources are shared, where content and strategies are healing and growth-centered, and where we all have the shared responsibility of keeping the space as harm-free as possible through community accountability, including for lateral violence. We embrace generative conflict over comfort within the bounds of our shared values, which are articulated in our Values Statement. See our second orientation post for more information.
The NSN promotes a public health framework and human rights-based approach to anti-human trafficking efforts. We uplift survivor-centered, public health prevention strategies that honor human rights and avoid increased criminalization, and work to build up and increase non-carceral strategies and solutions.
The NSN seeks to end human trafficking without co-opting the language of slavery or abolition. While people are still enslaved in many parts of the world and all forms of slavery fit the definition of human trafficking, not all forms of human trafficking fit the definition of slavery. We acknowledge that the use of this language and these metaphors, especially in the U.S. historical context of chattel slavery, obscures, ignores, and erases the ubiquitous anti-Black violence that was the foundation of our country and our movement, and is still present in our movement and in the lives of survivors.
The NSN acknowledges that all human trafficking exploits an individual’s body and mind, and that trafficking in the sex trades is not inherently more traumatic, grievous, or important to address than trafficking in other forms of labor, as different experiences of trauma cannot be compared or measured.
Financial abuse, wage theft, physical violence, debt bondage, and psychological trauma are not inherently less traumatic than sexual violence. Additionally, the division between sex trafficking and labor trafficking relies on an assumption that is not shared by all survivors (that commercial sex is not labor), and that disregards the ways in which sexual violence is a common component of all kinds of human trafficking. We believe that “fraud” in human trafficking should not be treated differently based on the form of labor it occurs in.
The NSN acknowledges that human trafficking is horrific, and is an extension of rather than an exception to the range of exploitation inherent in capitalist systems of labor. Normalization of exploitative labor practices increases vulnerability to trafficking.
We work to transform these systems while simultaneously engaging in harm reduction to mitigate their impacts. In the US, many people who do not have generational wealth, access to a path to immigration status, privileged identities, access to education or professional networks, or social supports must engage in work that may negatively impact them in a variety of ways in order to feed their families and stay housed, which can include physical, psychological, and/or spiritual harm.
The remedy to this is transformation of our inherently oppressive economic, humanitarian, immigration, and social systems. We deplore the economic and social circumstances that leave people to choose precarious work out of economic necessity and acknowledge that this form of limited choice is not unique to criminalized economies.
The NSN acknowledges that injustices experienced disproportionately by people of the global majority are rooted in systemic and historic oppression of these people and communities. We work to mitigate the effects of this oppression, while simultaneously acting to dismantle the power imbalances faced by our diverse survivor communities.
We practice radical empathy and do our work in solidarity with impacted and underserved communities and their fight for collective liberation from oppression. Neither marginalized identities nor a history of complex trauma negates an individual’s consent, and we can acknowledge the impacts of power dynamics on what choices are available or feel accessible without denying an individual’s creativity, resilience, and choice.
The NSN acknowledges that labor trafficking is underreported due to an increased emphasis on trafficking in the sex trades in awareness and prevention campaigns as well as media coverage and service provision. We strive to maintain inclusive messaging and spaces in which labor trafficking survivors feel seen and have their wisdom and lived experiences valued, and to advocate for campaigns and services to end trafficking in all forms of labor.
We advocate for disabled people, transgender and queer individuals, noncitizens, Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC), people with HIV/AIDS, current or formerly incarcerated people, and frequently criminalized communities to be protected through safer working conditions, free from discrimination, harassment, violence, wage theft, fraud, exploitation, and human trafficking.
The NSN opposes the use of forced or exploited labor in prisons.
The 13th Amendment states; “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
This loophole folded into the 13th Amendment was intended to be exploited and weaponized against Black people in an effort to maintain foundational white supremacist systems of slavery. It has led to an increase in racialized criminal codes that fuel mass incarceration, which disproportionately impact BIPOC families and communities while expanding the wealth of privately-owned, for-profit prisons, and, as an extension, reinstating the de facto enslavement of Black people as property.
The NSN opposes conflation of consensual and trafficked engagement in sex trades and acknowledges that not all adults in the sex trades are trafficked. Conflation of consensual labor and trafficked sex leads to increased surveillance, criminalization, and incarceration of people from marginalized communities, criminalizes harm reduction and safety practices that people in the sex trades use to keep each other safe, and leads to decreased engagement from direct services and healthcare staff when they are confused about what trafficking is. It also erases the experiences and agency of survivors who have both trafficked and consensual experiences in the sex trades and prevents those survivors from feeling included in anti-trafficking spaces.
The NSN believes that social policy and norms (like immigration policy, anti-Black racism, and homelessness policy, for example), can either prevent or drive trafficking by decreasing or increasing vulnerability. Effective anti-trafficking efforts will support meaningful changes in immigration reform, asylum, homelessness policy, 2SLGBTQIA+ protections, child welfare practices, drug policy, school disciplinary practices, addressing poverty, HIV policy, and decriminalization of survival. Youth are especially vulnerable, and youth in foster care, disconnected youth, and other systems-impacted youth deserve protections in their communities and placements as they often lack the support of resources due to obstacles like lack of access to housing, jobs, healthcare, and food security. Often, minors are stripped of their autonomy and as a result are excluded from life-saving choices, or are offered resources and “solutions” that are harmful, not relevant to their needs, or controlled by their trafficker(s).
The NSN does not advocate for causing harm to end harm, and end demand practices (including models known as the “Nordic Model” or “Equality Model”) harm people in the sex trades, whether consensual or trafficked. The NSN opposes end demand and other anti-trafficking efforts that rely upon criminalization or shaming of consensual adult sexual behavior. This is not at odds with systemic change to address racism, misogyny, and violence, but rather is an essential part of it, and this position is inextricably tied to our commitment to creating an inclusive space for survivors of human trafficking who have historically been excluded from the movement.
Please see End Demand Tactics Harm All People in the Sex Trades, Including Survivors of Trafficking for our rationale.
The NSN’s detailed clarification of its values around the sex trades does not signify that trafficking in the sex trades is more important than trafficking in other forms of labor, but rather is addressing the most commonly misunderstood or misrepresented elements of anti-trafficking prevention and policy efforts.
The NSN calls for an end to law enforcement ever having sexual contact with individuals in custody or potential victims, or ever having sexual contact while acting under the color of the law. These practices erode already-fragile trust in law enforcement among people from marginalized communities, making them less likely to go to law enforcement in the event of assault, robbery, rape, partner violence, or trafficking. Survivors of trafficking have experienced law enforcement officers threatening to arrest or criminalize them if they do not engage in sexual contact or being otherwise complicit in their trafficking. Law enforcement having sexual contact with them under false pretenses as part of prostitution, human trafficking, illicit massage, and drug investigations is fraudulent sexual violence. These practices are abhorrent, whether they are part of a human trafficking or prostitution investigation or whether the investigation is framed as targeting any other criminal act.
The NSN promotes harm reduction, sharing information and resources that help people in the sex trades to stay safer and healthier, and an end to stigma and criminalization for people in the sex trades. We recognize that many of our members work for organizations that are federally-funded and are expected to follow the “Anti-Prostitution Pledge” in their work, which requires organizations receiving US funding to certify that they will not “promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking.” Sharing safety resources and research is not promoting sex work or sex trafficking. This clause hinders survivors’ advocacy efforts and is often interpreted in a way that limits harm reduction efforts and increases vulnerability to trafficking in the sex trades, whether they actually promote prostitution or not. This clause also limits survivors’ self-determined agency by forcing them to frame their experiences in government-sanctioned ways in order to work in the field.
The NSN opposes criminalizing survivors for their trafficking experiences and supports holistic and comprehensive vacatur expansion for all survivors of human trafficking. People who are trafficked into criminalized economies deserve protections, even when the trafficking or other criminalized behavior does not occur in the sex trades or while they are a minor. Criminal records are often a significant barrier to immigration, work, foster parenting/adoption, housing, financial assistance, education, and other public services, which creates barriers to survivors’ economic independence.
The NSN supports the right to permanent resident status and equitable visa protections as well as a path to citizenship for noncitizen survivors of trafficking. Tying visa protections to a specific employer limits worker rights, and opens the door to further exploitation for both labor and sex trafficking. Tying T and U visa protections to cooperation with law enforcement takes away survivor autonomy and often puts survivors at increased risk of violence.
The NSN supports meaningful survivor leadership in both the sector and the movement rather than tokenized contributions, the mitigation of power dynamics over when and how survivors choose to tell their stories, and a movement whose frameworks are big enough to accommodate and advocate for those survivors whose narratives have been ignored or invalidated.
If you have experienced:
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