European day on Anti-Trafficking: Time for Consolidation

European day on Anti-Trafficking: Time for Consolidation

TIHR reflects on strengthening organisational and systemic responses in Europe.


18 October 2011

The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) welcomes the marking of the fifth European Day on Anti-Trafficking, on the 18th of October.

In acknowledging the severity of the problem in Europe and the need for urgent actions despite of the climate of austerity, we would like to dedicate this day to reflection on the need to strengthen organisational and systemic responses to human trafficking in Europe.

The Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings and the groundbreaking UN Palermo Protocol (2000) set up a framework in which effective action is not only possible but also encouraged. This has resonated in UK policy making and across Europe with the rapid development of National Referral Mechanisms, national policies, action plans, victim support organisations and initiatives to strengthen and coordinate local, national and transnational responses. While a lot has already been done, there are a number of areas that are still not addressed, or even explored, to which we are prepared to respond. These are mainly aspects related to consolidation of the existing structures and initiatives and strengthening the links between them, such as:

  • An emerging critique of contemporary debates and solutions is that they ‘speak on behalf’ of victims but do not sufficiently address inclusivity and diversity. There needs to be some consideration of the connection between the effects of traumatic experiences and the cultural context of migration, diversity and socio-political context throughout the trafficking process and within the recovery journey in order to develop appropriate policies and services. Systems of monitoring and evaluation need to be better grounded within the survivors’ experiences and their voices.
  • The mental health needs of migrants can be better attended to by providing learning opportunities for frontline staff to mitigate the risks of increased vulnerability of migrants and people willing to migrate without pathologising normative responses to the turmoil of migration, especially among victims of trafficking.
  • The mechanisms of trafficking are subtle and the trauma is often invisible. This puts survivors at an increased risk of being labelled as ‘bad’ or ‘mad’ by frontline professionals and decision makers instead of being recognised as victims. Frontline migration and police officers, health and social care professionals, teachers and youth workers among others need to be better informed on the specifics of trauma and the mechanisms violating the victims’ human rights.
  • Working with the trauma of trafficking also threatens the resilience of frontline service providers, whose needs often outstrip the capability of organisations and systems to support them adequately. Research into the underlying dynamics of care-providing organizations highlights the difficulties faced in managing services addressing trauma such as trafficking. The role of organisational dynamics in empowering or disabling practitioners can also be linked to findings of studies examining burnout among staff working with children with severe difficulties.
  • These issues are exacerbated even further in the area of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. Being hidden both as an illegal activity and in terms of signs and symptoms in trafficked people, adequate responses require enhancing practitioners’ capacity to learn from their experience and from the experiences of their clients. Rigid systems of care may operate under defensive assumptions that block practitioners from thinking about, or acknowledging their feelings about what comes from their clients. This is a coping mechanism which, for a while at least, may enable practitioners to carry on despite the gravity of the stories brought to them but over time the avoidance or denial creates a further barrier to recovery.This pattern is confirmed by recent reviews of the child protection system which highlight the need for a shift towards a more sensitive system based on providing opportunities for working through these experiences and then applying this learning to everyday practice. Our research, consultancy and evaluation work has encountered these phenomena in a range of care contexts, both within and beyond UK borders and developed ways of working with organizations involved in safeguarding children and adults. This requires working with all levels of the organizations that are tasked with safeguarding, including front-line workers, management and boards.
  • While it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the successes and achievements in this complex area, we are also mindful of the fact that only a small percentage of victims get access to support, let alone unclaimed compensation available to trafficked people. While the most severe trauma is caused by sex trafficking, there is a current need to assess the capacity of the field in relation to under-explored forms of trafficking, for example, for labour exploitation and, organ trafficking. In parallel, mainstream services for vulnerable people need to be extended to trafficked people, rather than leaving them marginalised and stigmatised in highly specialised settings.

The UK system is faced by a lot of similar challenges. To learn more about the specifics of trafficking in the UK, what needs to be done and what your organisation as an actor and you as a citizen can do, there are a range of events taking place to mark the day and raise awareness about the problem, which in the UK is an official Antislavery Day.

Further study is urgently required to link theoretical advances for immediate and ongoing application to practice. The effects of trauma and the cultural background in which trauma takes place shape the way victims do or do not ask for help. These factors interact to support or inhibit take up of opportunities presented to trafficking victims. More study is needed to examine the extent to which the cultural context and nature of trafficking impact on the responses of practitioners, organisations and even whole systems of care in achieving their intended outcomes.

For further information please contact Dr Milena Stateva m.stateva@tavinstitute.org

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