January 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Every year, thousands of children, youth and adults are forced into bondage. Fortunately, there are organizations that are working tirelessly to fight against human trafficking and bring justice to its victims. One of those organizations is International Justice Mission. We spoke with Petra Bosma, Public Affairs Manager for the Canadian office, to learn more about their work.
What exactly does International Justice Mission do?
International Justice Mission is a human rights organization that works to bring justice to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, trafficking and other forms of violent oppression in Latin America, Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. We work with police and local government officials to rescue victims and provide them with care afterwards. Then we work with lawyers and the courts to prosecute those committing the crimes. We want to make sure the entire public justice system actually protects those who are often left vulnerable—the poor.
“Slavery” sounds like a thing of the past. What types of slavery are there?
Slavery comes in all forms. We work to protect and free people from actual bondage—things like forced slavery, sex trafficking and illegal detention. We also work with cases of child sexual abuse, illegal property seizure and citizenship cases. The countries we work in have needs specific to their region. For example, our child sexual abuse cases happen predominantly in Latin American countries. In India, the major cases are human trafficking and slavery. In many African countries, illegal property seizure—also called property grabbing—is a major problem, as is illegal detention. Many of our cases in Southeast Asia involve sex trafficking.
How do you know when someone needs rescue?
We have undercover investigators who go into these dark places, risking their lives to gather information. The information is then brought to the local authorities to initiate a rescue operation.
Who do you partner with?
There are so many great organizations that are already doing excellent work, so we are constantly partnering with them to make all our efforts stronger. We partner with several organizations that provide aftercare for victims. We also have organizations that bring cases to our attention. Several child abuse cases in Southeast Asia have been brought to us through Compassion Thailand. We even shared an office with them in the past.
A great benefit to our work is having local staff. In fact, 95% of our staff are nationals. They’re dedicated professionals who understand the system and their communities better than we could.
You mentioned “aftercare”. What does that mean?
Aftercare—the care needed after an individual is freed—looks different for everyone. In sex trafficking there is a lot of emotional and psychological harm the individual needs to overcome in order to function. Often they’ll be placed in an aftercare home for social support and counselling. They’ll also receive job training, and, depending on their age, education. Aftercare in these cases can go anywhere from two years to six years or more. It all depends on how much time is needed for recovery; each individual has a personalized plan.
Forced slavery is different. Every individual rescued will go through a two year “freedom training” program which essentially helps them learn to thrive as a free person. They may receive an education, have help setting up a loan for a small business, learn to open a bank account or receive medical care. It depends on their needs. We want to set them up for success so they’re never lured back into a situation of slavery again.
After freedom training, some go on to take leadership training. A great example of this program in action is a man named Kutty from India. After Kutty was rescued from forced labour slavery, he took leadership training. Then he ran for local office—and won! He wants to help his community provide for themselves so they’re never lured into slavery.
What’s your favourite part about working for IJM?
Sharing the stories. One of my favourite stories that recently came in is about a 16-year-old girl named Mala. She was trafficked by a notorious brothel owner who believed he was above the law. We tried 6 times to rescue her, but without success—their network was too intricate. But we wouldn’t give up, and on the seventh time, we rescued her. Now she’s thriving and saving up to start her own business! It’s so encouraging and the work is so important. I’m grateful to be a part of it.
To learn more about International Justice Mission Canada, check out their website at www.ijm.ca.