236 – Strategic, Collaborative, and Resourced: A Conversation with Christa Foster Crawford

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Christa Foster Crawford discuss the different avenues in which human trafficking can be combatted; analyzing the approaches they adopt and how they vary. Dr. Morgan interviews Christa on her many books and how she founded Freedom Resource International. They discuss the four pillars of this organization and how they are implemented.

Christa Foster Crawford

Christa spends her days, and sometimes nights, empowering the anti-trafficking movement for greater effectiveness. She wears a lot of hats including teaching, training, writing, and speaking. A Harvard-trained lawyer, she helps direct the Payap Human Rights Law Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she has lived for the past 20 years, and she is the founder of Freedom Resource International, an international consultancy.

Key points

  • Trafficking in Thailand is different then it is in the USA
  • In Thailand those who are most vulnerable to trafficking normally lack citizenship or basic human rights; such as, being able to travel freely, having access to education, and being able to get work.
  • A person does not truly have a choice unless there is more than one option.
  • If we can build communities of wholeness, peace, and opportunity and address the underlying human rights deficiencies then we can hopefully reduce the demand for human trafficking.
  • We can’t only focus on saving victims, we must also do our part to help lift them up and restore them.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, this is episode 236, Strategic, Collaborative, and Resourced: a conversation with Christa Foster Crawford.


Production Credits [00:00:12] Produced by Innovate Learning, Maximizing Human Potential.


Dave [00:00:32] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.


Sandie [00:00:38] And my name is Sandie Morgan.


Dave [00:00:41] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. You’ve heard so many times on the show about the importance of partners. And today we’re so glad to welcome another one of our partners who has been working so diligently to support all of us in our efforts. I’m so glad to welcome today Christa Foster Crawford. She is the founder of Freedom Resource International and the associate director of the Payap Center for Human Rights Law. Christa spends her days and sometimes nights like she has today, empowering the anti-trafficking movement for greater effectiveness. She wears a lot of hats, including teaching, training, writing, and speaking. A Harvard-trained lawyer, she helps direct the Payap Human Rights Law Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she has lived for the past 20 years. And she is the founder of Freedom Resource International and international consultancy. Christa, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.


Christa [00:01:39] Thanks. It’s so great to be with you both.


Sandie [00:01:41] Well, Christa and I have known each other for a long time. I think we’ve only had a couple of in-person encounters. And I wish I’d known you when I did some studies in Chiang Mai back in like 2009. So, you’ve lived there for 20 years, and I’m really interested in understanding how that context shapes your approach to combating human trafficking.


Christa [00:02:10] I think context is everything. I think all of us came to this issue with a vision, a vision of wholeness and a better future, a vision of what we thought the problem was, and how we thought we would solve it. And it’s not until our feet hit the ground and our eyes are open and our minds are engaged to see what the real problem is, not just on the surface, but what’s in the background. What are the driving forces? What are some of the macro factors that are affecting individuals, harm? And so, I’ve seen both my paradigm and my understanding of what the problem and the solutions are. Change over time. And then I’ve also seen the problem itself change over the decades as well.


Sandie [00:02:53] So that brings up a really intriguing conversation that I’ve been having with some of my colleagues lately. If you knew then what you know now, what’s the biggest thing you would do differently?


Christa [00:03:08] Run,


Sandie [00:03:09] Run. OK.


Christa [00:03:13] No, I’m just kidding. It’s a hard fight. It’s a really difficult journey. I think anybody who’s been doing it as long as we have, knows that for every small success, we’ve had a lot of big failures. For every individual life changed, we’ve seen entire communities who still struggle to try to find true freedom and true resiliency and true change. And so, I don’t think we have to run. But I also think we should tread carefully and not run ahead of ourselves. And so, yeah, being prepared, being aware, being a constant learner and constantly questioning and evaluating and striving to do better, I think is really how we ought to be running this race. And not just the mad blind, you know, slapstick or whatever unfocused attempt to put out all the fires, but to really see, OK, what is the area in which we are both gifted and suited and who should we come alongside in trying to best attempt to address those issues?


Sandie [00:04:20] Those are really wise words. If you are a new advocate joining our listening community, please pay attention. So, one of the things I’ve noticed in the anti-trafficking world here in the U.S. is everybody knows about trafficking in Southeast Asia and they’ve all seen videos. And I’m using air quotes, documentaries, docu-dramas, absolute fiction to some extent. And so, can you just help us in just a short, brief time? Because we’ve got a lot to cover. What are some of the misconceptions about child trafficking in Thailand?


Christa [00:05:04] Sure. I think one of the basic misconceptions is that it’s different here than it is back home, wherever home is. And here in Thailand, being wherever you are not. And so, the I think the biggest myth that is recurring is, oh, isn’t it terrible that those mothers over there sell their children for, fill in the blank car or refrigerator or a cell phone? And I’ve been hearing that for two decades. In the 20 years that I’ve been doing this work and in the hundreds of people that we’ve worked with, I think we knew two mothers who intentionally on purpose. You know, out of an evil heart kind of thing, quote, sold their kids. And in each of those cases, it wasn’t a mother who woke up one day and saw them going to sell their kids. It was the mother who was deep into addiction, you know, a bad domestic situation, gambling, something else. And in every other case, and there were many, many, many cases in which family members were involved. It was always because the systems around them had really failed them. No mother wants to sell their child anywhere on the planet. That’s just the way that people work. But systems and individual failings and lack of hope and lack of options often conspire together to make it so that when an agent comes around and says, hey, we want to take this member of your family or when there are no jobs in one’s home because of poor economic systems or such situations of injustice, economic mismanagement that creates human rights abuses. And then when an agent comes around and says, hey, I’ve got a job for you, then perhaps sometimes the mothers or the other family members, maybe they ought to know better. But they feel that really this is the only option. And what a big part of our work has been trying to help people realize that there are other options, that there are other options, as well as trying to create systemic change that makes more options available, not just for the one, but for the many.


Sandie [00:07:14] Wow. I’m all about creating options because when we talk about choice, we do it from a frame of reference where we have a lot of choices. I can go to this mall or that mall, but we don’t understand the mindset when there’s no place to go. And I think that’s a really wise observation. I’m always jealous of people who have a law degree. It’s one of my secret desires. And you’re a Harvard trained lawyer and you help direct to the high up Human Rights Law Center. What’s their focus on human trafficking?


Christa [00:07:57] Well, they’re not focused particularly on human trafficking, but on the broader, again, human rights situation. I would say the situation of wellness. What does it mean to have communities that are communities of wholeness and peace and opportunity? And so, in Thailand, for many of the people who are most vulnerable to trafficking, they lack citizenship. They lack basic rights. That perhaps is mentioned that we all take, for many of us, take for granted being able to travel freely, being able to get an education, and being able to get work. And so, if we can address some of those underlying human rights deficiencies, then we can hopefully reduce the demand for as was the situation of human trafficking.


Sandie [00:08:44] I love that because sometimes we think the way to fight human trafficking is to do rescues, when if we intervened before they needed to be rescued; it would be so much more effective. But there’s no drama to publish or produce in prevention when there’s no victim.


Christa [00:09:05] Right.


Sandie [00:09:06] Wow. OK. So, let’s talk about your writing. You are a prolific writer. You’ve co-authored and edited two books with Glenn Miles. And you wrote your own book. And I love this title. “So You Want to Rescue Child Sex Slaves? What You Need to Know BEFORE You Begin.” Everybody put your player on pause and go write that down because this is so important. So why do you write?


Christa [00:09:36] Why do I write? Well, I am a macro person and I’m a person who sees the big picture. And very early on in my work here, I was focusing on individual cases, on rescuing young under-age girls from situations of forced brothel prostitution. And it was so necessary and yet it wasn’t sufficient. And so, I and the organization I was with was able to help a handful of people. But it for every person we helped, there was a revolving door. More and more and more. Then, perhaps because I’m a lawyer. I don’t know. I was able to see that there were systems in place and dynamics that were much bigger than any one individual victim. I see the natural connections and cycles, so the cycle, as you’ve mentioned, there’s prevention of how do we prevent people from being harmed in the first place? There’s intervention, of how do we help a person who’s in the midst of harm? And the only answer the rescue is often the answer. But it’s not the only answer. And then how do we restore people restoration? And then how to reintegrate them back into communities and create healthy communities. And that’s not just one point. It’s not a linear process. It’s really a cycle. And it’s really a process of one step forward, three steps back, 10 steps forward, four steps back. Why not? And it’s a continuing process. I often say that it’s a video, not a snapshot. And so even the people that we helped rescue in those early days as we walked with them decades later, you mentioned, you know, many of us have access to shopping malls after shopping malls. Well, one of the girls was, in the worst case, the brothel prostitution in Thailand. She was rescued. It was on the front cover of Christianity Today. It was an incredible success. We were using business as a way to help her find freedom. And yet she had come from a neighboring country which had huge economic mismanagement and human rights abuses. And her family and her community remained impoverished, as well as just entrenched in some terrible situations that were beyond what we could do to help her individually. And while she was in the US with us one time on a speaking tour, a really nice church bought her all of these clothes from Neiman Marcus. It was like a dream come true. It’s one of those reality shows. And she just loved every single item of clothing that she was able to pick out. And she brought them back to her home in Burma. And I remember watching all this support that she had, and I remember watching her one by one have to sell every piece of those clothes that she had been given until she had nothing left to sell but herself. And this was one of the most successful, most amazing rescues ever that I had experienced. And certainly, you know, that made international headlines. And yet here she was once again, back in the same situation of having to support her mother, her sister, sister’s kids, her brother, and her own kids. And that’s not just a one-off issue. That’s just not how do I help this girl? But how do we help the entire system? And so, as I process my own journey of coming to how do we wrestle with these questions, how do we come up with lasting solutions? What are the processes? What do other disciplines have to teach us about how to find lasting success? I would write things for myself. And then I realized as I was talking with individual people and advising them, it was oftentimes better to write for them as well and to try to get the word out even more. And podcasts existed back then. I certainly would have started a podcast, and I’m really grateful for podcasts like this that get the word out even broader.


Sandie [00:13:34] Well, I am so envious of your history and at the same time, I also value that our different paths create an opportunity for collaboration that is actually a force multiplier because all of your work now is being distributed to our listeners. In one hundred and thirty-three countries. And it goes in our file at the Library of Congress. I think written documentation stands the test of time podcasts, sometimes the links don’t work, whatever. But books are a valuable resource. We thought the Internet might make them disappear, but that has not been the case. Now then we just order them more quickly when they come on the horizon. So, I’m holding in my hand while we’re talking a book that you were co-author, co-editor of “Stopping the Traffick” with Glenn Miles. Can you talk a little bit about why you moved from writing by yourself to writing with others?


Christa [00:14:46] Great question, Glenn is one of the many people who have gone before me who was doing anti-trafficking work before there was, quote, such a thing as anti-trafficking. It’s a problem that stands for thousands and thousands and thousands of years in terms of modern slavery and sexual exploitation, sexual abuse. But it’s something that really only kind of became a phenomenon in the early 2000s with the advent of the Internet. And Glenn was one of the very first people I met when I hit the ground in Asia. And I learned so much from him. And so much of what I’ve learned from him and others has been in accidental meetings, standing in line at a coffee shop during a conference, having to fly all the way across the world to attend one of those conferences. And I have just met such a wealth of wisdom and information from the people who have come before. And I just hated the idea that that was all accidental. And so, at one of those conferences at Fuller Seminary, it was I teach at Fuller Seminary as well. And we were doing a human trafficking course and had a conference there. And Glenn brought up the idea of what if we had a book where we invited people who were doing this work into a conversation. And so, we set up the book as a series of questions that were really important to practitioners, as well as people who think bigger picture, how do we do this work? What are some of the pitfalls? What are the things that we think? Oh, of course, we know the answer until we get into the trenches. And so, his idea was to set up a number of questions and then have a variety of perspectives, answer it, and that there would be no one answer, but we would learn from those stories and experiences of others. And so that’s how that project started. And we spent years trying to get that first book out. And then we worked on a second one called “Finding Our Way Through the Traffick”, which dealt with another set of issues because we just had so many great responses and so many continuing questions. We’re working on a third volume right now that we’re hoping to get out. I was hoping for 2020, but COVID happened. So hopefully early 2021. And we hope to continue the series long into the future.


Sandie [00:17:02] Oh, that’s so good. And that kind of segue ways into your transition from working with individual cases to a broader, more global response to human trafficking and leveraging your experience and your connection to resources as a consultant. And you launched Freedom Resource International. Tell us about that collaboration.


Christa [00:17:33] Sure. Well, I live in a city, Chiang Mai, Thailand, which has, I would say, 50 to 100 anti-trafficking organizations. I’ve been here for almost 20 years, and even just three days ago, I learned of yet another one.


Sandie [00:17:47] Wait, wait, wait, wait, stop, stop. OK. What is the total population of the country of Thailand?


Christa [00:17:58] I forget, but we do not need to have 50 to one hundred. And that’s just in Chiang Mai?


Christa [00:18:06] Just in Chiang Mai.


Sandie [00:18:08] Oh, my goodness.


Christa [00:18:10] Yeah. It’s a lot. And again, the need is big, somewhat. We are a hub. We are sending country, we’re receiving country, and we’re a transit country. And the city in which I live is one of those transit points. However, we’re just a hodgepodge of just organizations that come and go and come and go and individuals. I mean, my individual memory list is literally hundreds of people who have been through those organizations over the years. And so, it’s really a field in which we all, each and every one of us has an amazing heart and an amazing will to do good. But unfortunately, good intentions are not good enough. And so, it’s not good enough for ourselves. If you think about what it took to get you, even if you’re working in your own context, but particularly if you’re working outside of your context, think about all of the work and money it took to get you into this place to do this work. And many of the people who are working in this field kind of, I don’t know, they last two, three, maybe four or five years and then they burn out or spin out and fade away. And it’s just an incredible human and personal cost. And so, I wanted to come alongside individuals who are working. It’s also fields in which it’s an urgent, urgent need. That’s why we’ve all signed up. And so, the idea that we’re just spinning around, reinventing wheels, making the same mistakes over and over again, it’s OK to make mistakes. We all will. But let’s make new mistakes.


Sandie [00:19:46] So let’s talk through the four pillars of the Freedom Resource Web page. Training, resources, strategic impact, and expert advice. So, what does that look like?


Christa [00:19:59] In terms of training, I provide training to practitioners in my city, hopefully online as well, someday, again, people who have come over. They’ve left everything, but they don’t have training in mental health. They don’t have training in physical health. They don’t have training in organizational development or what is the actual problem. So, my trainings address a wide variety of those tangible issues. I also work for big organizations that hire me to come in and consult or to train their people. And then I often take those trainings and try to share them with others as well. They often become articles or book chapters.


Sandie [00:20:40] See she’s writing. And the thing about training and equipping is when we sit together in a classroom, we find common language to use, which improves communication. We set common standards for what is best practice or at least promising practice. We won’t get into the debates about best practice things, but I think that that’s an important piece of pulling a community together for collaboration.


Christa [00:21:12] It really is. And even though I’m the quote expert, I really the people that are in the room that are doing the grassroots work are the true experts. And actually, it’s the survivors themselves who are really the experts. And so, I can come into the room with theory and with all of those vocabulary words and promising practice and all of the expertise. But if it doesn’t click with the reality of what the people who are in the trenches are seeing, then I know that I need to switch my training. And I’m often really humbled when they say, wow, how did you know that? That’s what’s happening in my community. And I know because I listen to people from a lot of different communities and I hear these commonalities. So much has changed over the past 20 years. Who’s vulnerable and why and whatnot. But those same root cause factors remain the same. And those are really the ones, that shows me that’s what needs to be addressed. Right. Over the years. Our strategy needs to remain consistent of hitting those key things.


Sandie [00:22:12] So that strategic impact. But before we go to that third pillar, you said something earlier about not reinventing the wheel. And when I explored your Web site and I clicked on resources, I thought I could spend a month here. Talk to us about why resources are vital.


Christa [00:22:31] Oh, it’s so hard. I remember when I was first starting out and we were doing outreach in the bars and I hate outreach. I hate it. Many people love it. And I just hate it. And I did it because I had to. And I would just be like, I’m sitting in a bar with really loud music. I can’t speak the language very well. I can’t hear over the music anyway. And I’m just playing Connect four. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong. And then I went to ICAP conference and I met people who were doing outreach in England and in Greece and the Philippines. And we were all like, all I do is I sit in the bar, and I’m playing this game and I don’t know how to talk to the people if it’s my native language and I feel like I’m doing it all wrong. And then we realized, wait. Apparently, this is how you do outreach. We grew and we learn from one another. But I think it’s realizing, OK, there’s no magic bullet. There’s no, there are definitely ways that we can engage better. But I think learning from other people, what works, what doesn’t work. So much of this, we are in over our heads. But to know that other people are standing with us by our side is so helpful. And so, they’re thankfully, over the past 20 years, there have been many, many resources that have been created. I didn’t have the luxury of pulling a manual off of a shelf or off of the internet. And so, creating those resources, finding other people who are creating them, amplifying them. There’s an organization called Freedom Collaborative who is doing an even better job than I possibly can on my own. Gathering resources and having that be a user-led process where we can ourselves upload resources that we’ve created and found and share it with the global community and hopefully those other hubs out there that are doing similar things.


Sandie [00:24:26] So I want to spend. We’ve got like five minutes left. So, I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about strategic impact. We talk about smart, intelligent, smart bombs, smart, whatever. What do you see as strategic right now? In 2020.


Christa [00:24:49] Honestly, I think one of the most strategic things that we can do has nothing to do with, quote, anti-trafficking in the first place. I think we really need to take a step back, put on the kind of hats and lenses that a development professional would put on. Most of us, at least in my context, have never taken a development course in our entire lives. But we’re trying to create better individuals, better communities, better societies, and that is the work of development. And one of the key principles of development is the systems approach. What are the factors that are making it so? This individual person is suffering the issue. In our case, it’s being sold for sex or for labor, for organs, or for some other exploitative purpose. And what makes the individual vulnerable? Immigration status is a huge one. So, in our countries, what is being done in terms of migration policy, what is being done in the idea that people have to migrate for jobs? It’s just a reality now. Many people are fleeing war, conflict, lack of resources, environmental damage, fires, earthquakes, floods. How can we make migration safer so that in the process of fleeing one horror, people don’t end up in another horror of exploitation?


Sandie [00:26:15] Wow. OK, so you are the expert that provides the fourth pillar. So, we won’t go into making you talk about yourself. But before we close your work with Glenn Miles has been exemplary. And I’m especially interested in understanding the most recent chapter contribution that actually was taken from the Stop the Traffic book about the impact of globalization of children’s access to pornography on trafficking. And our next podcast, Glenn, is going to be here. So, he’s going to address a lot of that. But why is that so important to tackling demand?


Christa [00:27:01] Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned demand demands. Another one of those keys, core strategic issues. If there were no demand for exploitation, there would not be a supply. It’s just as simple as that. And I think one of the hard realities is that we all are part of that demand. I come from a faith-based perspective and we were always taught. Don’t look at pornography because it’s a sin and it’s bad for you. And over the years, I’ve learned it’s not that in and of itself. It’s that it’s harmful for the people who are involved. And certainly, you know, you’ll hear arguments of, oh, well, this person consented and this person, you know, is making a lot of money and whatever. I’m not here to debate that issue, but it’s more of an issue of recognizing, well, is this really the freest choice for the people who are involved in the production of pornography? And there’s a lot of evidence that it’s not. And so, if we’re really looking at how can I prevent harm to other people? Let me make sure that my action, my own actions are not causing harm. And then with the rise of globalized forces such as the Internet and the unbelievable economic incentives behind pornography, so much of the money and much of the rise of the Internet and what makes it such an amazing tool for good is actually fueled and driven by the economy of bad. So much of the innovations have been driven by the pornography industry. And again, even if people individually, you know, we’re not being affected by that, we’re actually changing the minds of an entire society. Never in our lives have we done a social experiment on the scale that we are right now and putting a mobile device in the hands of, you know, so many people on the planet, including young minds that are developing and the neurological changes that are happening regardless of the content. But just the way that it affects our neurons and our development is unbelievable. And the addictiveness of pornography, the type of pornography that’s being created now is not what my generation used to have to sneak into a liquor store and you sneak out in a paper bag. It’s a completely different form. And Glenn, we’ll talk about some of the violence and the misogyny and the just unbelievable messages that we’re putting out there, that it would be a terrible, horrible, frightening social experiment if it was just on paper and it was just limited to a small group. But the fact that we’re doing this to an entire generation of young people and potentially changing their minds forever is terrifying. And the people that I’ve talked to at the FBI and other law enforcement are also terrified. And those are not people who are easy to spook. And it’s not just about morals. It’s not just about, oh, you know, don’t do this individually. It’s what are we doing to demand and what are we doing to society as a whole in terms of all of our relational ability going forward long into the future?


Sandie [00:30:05] Christa, we could talk for two hours, not just 30 minutes. Our time is up. But I am so glad and grateful that you came on the show today, because I believe every connection point between coworkers in this field is a strand in a huge safety net. And the denser that net is, the better the more vulnerable people that will catch before they drop into that horrible abyss. And I’m just so grateful for our partnership and I believe our collaboration will have an opportunity to grow. Thank you so much for being with us today.


Christa [00:30:46] Thank you so much. Great to be with you, Sandie.


Dave [00:30:50] Thanks to you both. What an incredible conversation, Christa. Thank you so much for your work and your wisdom. And we are inviting you also to take the first step, if you will, go online and over to endinghumantrafficking.org. You’ll be able to find all the resources we’ve mentioned in today’s episode. Also, a downloadable copy of Sandie’s book, it’s free. The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick-Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’ll teach you the five critical things Sandie’s identified that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. Get access to that by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. Also, while you’re online, you may want to investigate more about our next Ensure Justice conference coming up March 5th and 6th, 2021 Ensurejustice.com is the address to go there. And we will see you back for our next conversation with Glenn. Coming up here in two weeks, See you then, Sandie. Take care.

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