By Dannie Nemes, API Chaya Anti-Human Trafficking Survivor Advocate

When I joined API Chaya in 2017 as a housing advocate, I knew that I would be providing support to survivors in need of avoiding eviction and other related housing needs. However, I never expected to have such a profound connection to this work and the people I was serving. In 2019, I switched roles and became an anti-human trafficking advocate. Since the late 90’s, the API Women and Family Safety Center, now API Chaya, has helped labor and sex trafficking survivors access what many of us take for granted; food, healthcare, housing, immigration status and language access to name a few. 

One of my first cases was a family who fled their home country in search of better medical care for their chronically ill child. After arriving in the U.S. they befriended someone they thought they could trust and found themselves in a situation they couldn’t escape. Over the years, I have walked alongside this family, assisting them with getting into a shelter, connecting with an immigration attorney, applying for a protection order, finding employment, enrolling in ESL classes and moving into permanent housing. Together, we’ve celebrated triumphs like receiving their work permits and Trafficking Visas and commiserated over challenges applying for state benefits and health insurance. Even though we support countless survivors in achieving these necessary milestones, healing and survivorship is a non-linear journey that persists long after clients have been exited from our program.

While every survivor situation is unique, there are common threads that connect them. Most survivors are driven from their home countries due to lack of available resources, civil unrest, crime, economic disenfranchisement and natural disasters. Additionally, the promise of economic stability, freedom of choice and personal safety are strong incentives that force survivors to leave the familiarity of their home and their loved ones behind. Global structures and systems of oppression reliant on the exploitation of land and labor creates vulnerable populations, where human beings are seen as disposable commodities. Anyone can fall victim to human trafficking, regardless of their age, gender, race or socioeconomic status.  Likewise, anyone can exploit another person. In many cases, survivors are trafficked by family members, their spouse or someone they befriended. Not all survivors are foreign nationals who cross international borders.  Forced labor exists in several different industries. Survivors are often trafficked in areas such as agriculture, construction, domestic servitude, factories, hospitality, massage parlors and restaurants.

API Chaya partners with the community to support survivors, cultivate healing and build accountable communities. Together, we can end violence and exploitation. One of the most important ways to combat this lucrative industry is by spreading awareness and dispelling the myth that human trafficking exists only in underground spaces and is limited to the commercial sex exploitation of women and children. We must also believe survivors and support harm reduction policies that focus on helping people and providing services, not punishment. Additionally, it’s important to be a conscious consumer, knowing how and where goods are manufactured and buying fair trade when possible. Most of all, we must work collectively to address the root causes of forced migration and topple systems of oppression and exploitation. 

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