As we near the end of the second year of the pandemic, we at Shield are reflecting on its effects on the Anti-Human Trafficking field and how it has caused us to shift our methods of operation. Reports from the last two years have shown an increase in the number of people considered to be vulnerable to human trafficking while those who were already vulnerable have grown more so. This is due to global financial instability and the inability for many to find safe and stable employment. It may also be due to many governments being required to divert limited funding away from anti-trafficking programs to put towards Covid-19 prevention efforts.
Human traffickers are aware of these changes and have quickly adapted, perhaps more quickly than the Anti-Trafficking community has been able to match. Traffickers are quick to prey on those who are most effected economically. With the closures of public spaces, exploitation has gone underground and online. Studies have shown a staggering increase in the online sexual exploitation of children. As more children are online, many unsupervised, and online for longer, traffickers have access to a wider pool of potential victims across the internet and are unrestrained from geographical distances. Demand for online content has also increased with the closures of many commercial sex establishments.
These changes have made investigating human trafficking increasingly difficult, including for Shield of the Children. We have not been able to do any intervention work since the end of 2019 due to travel bans. This has caused us to re-evaluate our anti-trafficking efforts to determine how we can be most effective during truly difficult circumstances. We have worked to maximise our contribution to the field and temporarily diverted our focus from intervention to prevention.
Our prevention program has continued for much of the duration of the pandemic, with social distancing measures in place and brief pauses during strict lockdowns. With more people becoming vulnerable, this program is more important than ever. We recently hired a male prevention officer to speak to men in nearby communities about the harms of pornography and toxic masculinity with the goal of decreasing the number of potential perpetrators and buyers. This program has also expanded to include working on child protection cases in the area, many of which are expected to be identified during prevention education sessions. We are actively looking for a qualified social worker to take on the responsibility of handling these cases. Intervention still remains a crucial part of Shield of the Children’s DNA and in 2022 we plan to expand our area of operations to allow us to resume investigations. We plan on going beyond Southeast-Asia but will focus on cases with survivors from Southeast-Asia. There are too many traffickers operating with impunity across the globe for us to sit and wait any longer. We’re coming.
Studies sourced from: 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report – United States Department of State