Villain, Victim, or Savior?

Villain, Victim, or Savior?

A classic story involves a damsel in distress and a cruel, disillusioned villain. After arduous realities, the damsel is saved by a heroic mess of testosterone and the world is set right. The villain is banished to a castle in the abyss for all eternity while the damsel and her prince live happily ever after.

There are two points to this introduction.

The first is that without the villain, there’s no plot, or story. The identified evil would be absent. With no antihero, there is no need for justice (or prosecution). The villain must be present to illuminate the need for redress and to recognize the inherent nature of the crime and stop it at the source.

My second point is that narratives are the facilitators of human connection. As children we learn empathy through the triumphs and tribulations of the stories. The narratives connect us to people and things we may not otherwise attempt to understand.

Why or how are these two points connected in the field of human trafficking?

Let me set some context. Human trafficking was officially defined in Colorado law as  a felony in 2006. One man was convicted for sex trafficking of a minor and adult to mark the first-ever human trafficking conviction under Colorado law in 2011. In 2009, Peruvian sheepherders brought a civil suit against an employer for miscellaneous trafficking atrocities. They won the case. These are some of the few cases brought against the perpetrators under state anti-trafficking laws that have succeeded in identifying, charging, and convicting the criminals with the intended appropriate laws.

You can find more information about the cases below:

These convictions represent the successes of law enforcement, prosecution, communities, service providers, and the survivors themselves. But how can this be enough? When there are service providers reaching hundreds of people every year who have survived numerous forms of exploitation and/or trafficking, how is it that only a handful of cases have been prosecuted under Colorado’s human trafficking statutes in the past nine years? And how much do we know about the individuals perpetrating these crimes, especially in the midst of such low conviction rates?

The first ever conviction in Jefferson County occurred in 2014 read more about it here:

In fact, I want to hear more about the people who are committing these atrocities and seemingly getting away with them. Instilling pressure on the criminal stops the cycle at it’s core and prevents the victimization of more vulnerable people. What can we learn about the motivations from these criminals? How can we prevent people from becoming perpetrators? Too often, the narrative seems to focus only on victims, which creates the delusion that this issue is one-sided. It most certainly is not.

I am advocating for an appropriate and holistic effort to address all aspects of human trafficking. How can we tell a better story that generates human connection?

A comprehensive approach brings the narrative around full circle generating understanding and universality. If you take the Brothers Grimm, their stories embody the elements of classic stories but are never clear. These tales depict a messy and chaotic parable. This reflects the efforts to end human trafficking. Frequently, the perpetrators are victims themselves and the evil behind the crime is hidden and deceitful to an obvious glance. To manifest a true holistic approach to  end human trafficking, the victim, villain, and savior necessitate extensive research and insight. 


Celebrating 10 Years of Anti-Trafficking Efforts

By Amanda Finger

This year, we celebrate 10 years of concentrated efforts to locally address human trafficking. One decade is a significant amount of time and is a point for reflection as well as an opportunity to look forward. For the history and our founding or the programs we operate, I’ll refer you to the Who We Are section on our website. For now, I’d like to take the time to reflect upon our impact, big and small, and the lessons we have learned.

In the 10 years that we have sought to make an imprint on the anti-trafficking movement, I am most proud of our work with future leaders (i.e., interns) as well as our wide variety of collaborations with organizations, agencies, and individuals.  Perhaps this is because collaborations and leaders are made of people. It is humbling to facilitate meetings where the table hosts law enforcement agents, feminist activists, secular nonprofit and faith-based leaders, academicians, corporate leaders, politicians, interns, and survivors. Once the table is set, it is how we maintain these relationships that I believe will make the movement sustainable. Intensive, respectful dialogue and collaboration among people from many different disciplines is key to addressing any crime as immense as human trafficking. As I reflect on my involvement over the years, I’d like to note some of my own lessons learned:

1)    Respecting survivor voices. When I have listened – taking the time to really listen – to people share their lived experiences, I have become a better person and a better leader. I am not referring to someone sharing personal traumatic details; rather, I refer to the co-learning that occurs in these conversations. For example, I have learned ways to more sensitively train and educate, to pay close attention to the language that I use, and to not over-intellectualize a topic that is emotional but to not sensationalize it either. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that people are resilient; human trafficking is just a part of one’s story.

2)    Mentorship of future leaders. Since 2005, we have supported 106 interns. I have spent 10 years reframing the phrase, “I’m just an intern,” to one that denotes confidence and deserving of a place at the table. We have been able to accomplish many meaningful projects because of these future leaders and they have gone on to contribute their skills and talents to become foreign aid officers, lawyers, teachers, police officers, social workers, and film directors. They are critical to sustaining the momentum of this movement.

3)    Research matters. As a nonprofit that conducts research, I share an immense respect for the blending of rigorous research design with practitioner expertise. I believe that we must respond to this global issue locally – we must seek ways to comprehensively address human trafficking, and to leverage existing resources in our communities. Our research projects are designed locally, and can be replicated by other cities and states around the country, reinforcing the idea of collectively sharing and learning. Researchers can help us make sense of what we’re seeing and hearing on the ground. Survivors and first responders can help guide us to the to the right questions.

These lessons provide a fundamental compass for the next 10 years: Keep survivor voices central, teach the next generation how to comprehensively address human trafficking, and integrate collaborative, and research-supported actions to effect long-term systemic change.

Next Blog: Looking Forward to the Next 10 Years