By Jakki Bedsoe and Jessica Hubley of AnnieCannons
Survivors of human trafficking cite at least one transformative relationship as one of the most effective strategies for a successful exit from of exploitation. At least one person who believes in them, sees their authentic self, showers them with unconditional love and shows up consistently without judgement makes a huge difference. To work, these relationships must center trust, empowerment and autonomy for the survivor. And they must counter the unhealthy relationship dynamics that exploiters employ to control their victims.
So how does technology solve the problem of helping survivors find transformative relationships? Or better yet, a network of transformative and supportive relationships that help them on their path to safety, stability and a lifetime free from exploitation?
The ReferAll platform answers that question. It does something very unique. While is doesn’t create a human being or transformative relationships, it does help survivors who have transformative relationships stay connected to that support throughout the periods of deep disconnect the characterize most trafficking experiences. ReferAll also helps those who do not have transformative relationships make connections with service providers and advocates who can help them meet their needs, access greater safety, and work towards their individual, self-identified goals. These providers may include or be integral to the development of a network of transformational relationships that support the individual survivor. ReferAll facilitates connection when that connection might have otherwise been lost — or never initiated.
In conversation with providers serving survivors of human trafficking, particularly in the Child Welfare System, AnnieCannons has learned how challenging it can be to maintain connections with survivors actively being exploited. While a survivor might enter the system with a cell phone, they can lose access to it due to the rules and expectations of their foster home or group home placement or by actions of the trafficker. If they become disconnected from care and do not have their phone, they can lose important contact information of the members of their support team. Losing their phone can also happen outside of care and survivors often cycle through several devices while experiencing exploitation. The longer a survivor is disconnected from those they have built transformative relationships with, the harder it can be to re-establish trust and access safety and stability through support from members of their team.
One provider we spoke with described how helpless she felt in connecting with a survivor in her care. The survivor was actively experiencing exploitation when they first connected. They exchanged phone numbers during their initial meeting and met a handful of times to develop goals and connect to resources. One day the provider called and did not receive an answer from the survivor. She tried again the next day but no luck. After a few days she tried again to find the phone was no longer in service. She had no other way to contact the survivor, nor did any other members of her team.
She described waiting for months until the survivor showed back up in the Child Welfare System and the two stumbled upon each other once again. The provider learned that the young person had been re-exploited and had not a single number of anyone safe in her phone. She was smart and tried calling organizations and the few numbers she had memorized but no one could connect her back to her team.
The story was heartbreaking. To think that someone who wanted to connect and leave their experience of exploitation was out of reach from the people who could help her do just that. Unfortunately this happened again and over the course of a year, the provider and survivor connected whenever fate finally brought them together again.
On the other hand, providers, including those working directly with survivors in the Child Welfare System, report that the ability to stay consistently connected, often on a weekly basis, help survivors remain stable in their foster care placements, attend school on a regular basis and prevent further experiences of exploitation.
Technology like ReferAll can improve each of the above scenarios. The survivors experiencing material severance from care or contacts can redownload the application onto a new device each time the previous one is lost, recovering all account information, contacts, and history. This obviates the need to memorize providers’ numbers. Survivors can connect directly on the platform with providers they’ve consented to be in touch with. Providers can leave messages and updates for the survivor that remind them they are ready and available to reconnect, even if the survivor is AWOL.
Additionally, survivors with technology will be able to do more with ReferAll than maintain connections with their support team. They can also build self efficacy skills in finding resources and additional services that meet their needs and for which they are eligible. They can also store information about themselves, including tasks and goals.
This technology is integral for survivors because ultimately, people are integral to survivors. We know that with the right technology, one that listens to the challenges and barriers preventing a person from achieving their goals and actualizing their autonomy, we can create real change in the lives of our most vulnerable and marginalized populations. This is technology powered by the people it serves.