Human Trafficking Survivors Are the Hidden Victims of COVID-19

A month ago, my husband and I had our tent trailer packed and ready to go on an epic camping trip to Nevada and Utah with our three kids. We canceled at the last second as the Canada-US border closed to non-essential travel. Instead of hiking in Arches National Park and marveling at the Las Vegas Strip, we found ourselves hunkering down at home to protect my mom, who lives with us and, as a cancer survivor, is at higher risk for serious COVID-19 related complications if she contracts the virus. 

Like millions of others around North America, our lives and immediate plans have been disrupted. My husband and I feel mounting stress as we try our best to work, parent and school our kids from our house, which suddenly feels far too small for the five of us.

As the crisis wears on, however, canceling a long-dreamed-of vacation and managing this new social distancing normal, are the least of my worries. 

These are not the things that keep me up at night.

What haunts me is the devastating impact the pandemic is having on the world’s most fragile populations, including the human trafficking survivors I serve in my work with 10ThousandWindows, an organization that restores the lives and dignity of modern slavery survivors by connecting them to safe, decent work.  

I receive daily reports from my frontline colleagues in the Philippines that trafficking survivors who fought so hard to integrate into their communities, to upgrade their schooling and to get good jobs, are now being laid off because of quarantines and lockdowns. When trafficking survivors call us, they tell us how worried they are about not earning an income, how hungry their children are, and that they don’t have money for food.

One survivor, “Maryel” (pseudonym to protect her privacy), finally secured a good job last November. This was after years of working to overcome the trauma of her exploitation and gain the skills she needed to find safe work. Maryel was proud of herself when she got the job. Her regular paychecks were providing for her and her young children with dignity. She was beginning to dream of and plan for a hopeful future. 

But a few weeks ago, disaster struck when Maryel lost her job because of the pandemic. With her city in total lockdown and most businesses closed, looking for another job is impossible. She spent her last paycheck on food for her kids, but she knows it will run out soon. 

“It’s a very distressing situation,” says my colleague, Jonna, in the Philippines. “It’s a desperate condition that the most vulnerable survivors are facing.” 

This is unlike anything I’ve seen before in my ten years working in the counter-trafficking movement. Modern slavery, an egregious evil on its own, is now enveloped in a global crisis that is spreading throughout the entire world. As the pandemic unfolds, it threatens to damage and undo much of the work that’s been done to restore and reintegrate victims of trafficking into their communities.

With no social safety net or government support, women who have worked hard to get good jobs and to provide for their families with dignity, are at risk for exploitation again. They wonder how they will make money to feed their kids. Survivors tell us they are experiencing debilitating anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and returning trauma symptoms. 

Most likely, this is just the beginning, and that is frightening. The impact on vulnerable communities around the world will only increase in the coming months as the world reels from this crisis and as economies contract, or worse, collapse.

With stay-at-home orders wearing on, I know many of us feel weary, powerless, and a bit bored and afraid. The last thing we are thinking about is human trafficking survivors a world away who are impacted by the pandemic. 

However, if there’s anything COVID-19 has shown us, it’s how deeply connected we are. We are a migrating, traveling world. Our economies, our collective health, and even our futures are intricately enmeshed. 

What does give me a glimmer of hope is that while the coronavirus knows no geographic boundaries, neither does the Good News. Even as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on our lives, the Church has a chance to shine. God’s people have an unprecedented opportunity to bear witness to sacrificial love, justice, freedom, and human flourishing among the world’s oppressed and exploited. As the pandemic continues, we can still be a blessing to human trafficking survivors. 

See Also

Here’s how you can help human trafficking survivors who have been devastated by the pandemic.

Pray

As you pray about the Coronavirus pandemic and for those impacted in North America, pray also for human trafficking survivors and that they will receive the support they need. 

Give Locally and Globally

If you are able to give charitably in this economically fraught time, consider supporting both local and global organizations helping vulnerable people critically impacted by COVID-19. Generosity is never a zero-sum equation. When we are a blessing to others and share our resources with our local and global neighbors, everyone wins. 

Share Hope Online

Everyone is on the internet these days. As we scroll news and social media feeds more than ever before, we have an unprecedented opportunity to share important messages online. Spread the word about how COVID-19 is impacting human trafficking survivors in devastating ways. But also share the good news that we have the power to be a blessing and to help the oppressed and exploited weather this crisis with dignity.

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