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Effective aftercare for human trafficking survivors


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A new fortnightly column by a team of real people dedicating their lives to the fight against human trafficking, exploitation and social injustice. This week’s writer is Robyn Leigh Curran. She gives us a look inside the thinking behind her PhD dissertation.

National Human Trafficking Resource Line

Human trafficking and its effects on the survivor is a research area that is lacking on a global level; with non-existent literature in the South African context, especially regarding the process the survivor navigates to healing. Furthermore, there is a lack of evidence-based research regarding aftercare practices that are implemented in the shelters that provide care to human trafficking survivors.

The voice of survivors
Review of the literature on the processes that take place from aftercare to empowerment, revealed the need for emphasis to be placed on the voices of survivors concerning their liberation from oppression (Brunovskis & Surtees, 2007, Clawson et al., 2009 and Freire, 1970). Many of the studies, such as those conducted by Zimmerman (2006, 2008); Oram et al. (2012); Cwickel, Chudakov, Paikin, Agmon, Belmaker (2004); and Dharmadhakari, Gupta, Decker, Raj and Silverman (2009); report on the extensive physical, psychological, and sexual health consequences of human trafficking. These findings emphasise the serious health complications of human trafficking for the survivor, and the need for a coordinated response from aftercare providers. Oram’s (2012) systematic review of the literature on the consequences of human trafficking highlights the need for more informed research on survivors’ needs and experiences in order to mitigate the physical and psychological damage associated with this global crime.

A grounded theory study
Crucial to survivors’ ability to make sustained recovery from human trafficking, are the processes that guide them and aftercare providers. My study set out to explore the experiences of survivors in aftercare, and their needs within the process of recovery in addition to the experiences of aftercare providers. Understanding the experiences of human trafficking survivors and aftercare providers alike is key to developing a comprehensive view of the many dimensions of the process of recovery for human trafficking survivors.

Concepts highlighted in Paulo Freire’s (1970) theory of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed had particular significance for my study of aftercare practices for human trafficking survivors. As human trafficking survivors are marginalised and oppressed individuals, their liberation requires an emphasis on action, and the involvement of survivors as the experts of their own experience. In dialoguing with human trafficking survivors, there needs to be bi-directional respect that involves parties working cooperatively together, as opposed to a style of engagement where one party (the aftercare provider) tells the other party (the survivor) what to do.

A model of aftercare for low resource settings
Three shelters in three provinces in South Africa were sampled for the study, and human trafficking survivors and aftercare providers from these shelters were interviewed. In using the methodology of grounded theory, a model was developed that was grounded in the voices of these participants. The model that emerged outlines the process that survivors undergo in aftercare and provides a framework for those providing aftercare in varying contexts. It is hoped that the model will equip organisations involved in service provision to human trafficking survivors, fill a gap in the dearth of research in South Africa and globally on aftercare; and facilitate further research in this field.

Brunovskis, A. & Surtees, R. (2007). Leaving the Past Behind? When Victims of Trafficking decline assistance. (Tech. Report No. 2007:40). FAFO and Nexus Institute: Norway.

Clawson, H.J., Dutch, N., Solomon, A., & Grace, L.G. (2009). Human Trafficking into and within the United States: A Review of Literature. US Dept. of Health and Human Services. Found on 28/03/2013: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/humantrafficking/litrev/

Cwikel, J., Chudakov, B., Paikin, M., Agmon, K., & Belmaker, R. (2004). Trafficked female sex workers awaiting deportation: Comparison with brothel workers. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 7(4), 243–249.

Dharmadhakari, A.S., Gupta, J., Decker, M.R., Raj, A. & Silverman, J.G. (2009). Tuberculosis and HIV: A global menace exacerbated by sex trafficking. International Journal of Infectious Disease, 13(5), 543-546.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Oram, S., Stöckl, H., Busza, J., Howard, L.M, & Zimmerman, C. (2012). Review Prevalence and risk of violence and the physical, mental, and sexual health problems associated with human trafficking: systematic review. Human trafficking and Health: Systematic Review, 9(5), 1-13.

Effective aftercare for human trafficking survivors  


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About the author

I recently submitted my PhD study in Nursing: “A Theory of Aftercare for human trafficking survivors: A Grounded Theory Analysis of survivors and aftercare providers in South Africa” for examination at UKZN. I have been involved in working with Red Light Anti Human Trafficking initiative on their restoration programme, and have been engaging and collaborating with anti-trafficking organizations globally since 2012, specifically on aftercare and re-integration strategies. I have worked as a consultant for research on needs of survivors of sexual violence for Tearfund as well as other research studies in healthcare with Zoe-Life. I have worked as a midwife and research nurse in South Africa, United Kingdom and India; and currently work part-time as a clinical research nurse whilst completing my PhD. I am passionate about justice and finding avenues for better collaboration and networking of organizations and for the voice of the oppressed to be heard.



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