Katherine Chon is the founding director of the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) and senior advisor on human trafficking at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). OTIP is part of the HHS Administration for Children and Families, responsible for developing strategies and implementing programs to prevent trafficking, increase victim identification and access to services, and strengthen the health and well-being of survivors. OTIP also collaborates with government and non-government partners to raise public awareness, identify research priorities, and inform policy recommendations to strengthen the Nation’s public health response to human trafficking. As the director, Katherine leads the office and determines certification and eligibility for survivors of human trafficking who may be eligible for refugee benefits and services.
She is the federal executive officer of the National Advisory Committee on the Sex Trafficking of Children and Youth in the U.S. As senior advisor, Katherine serves on multiple committees under the Senior Policy Operating Group of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. She serves on other related federal inter-agency working groups on violence against women, child exploitation, and Native American affairs. Prior to her government service in 2012, Katherine was the co-founder and President of Polaris, establishing the global organization’s innovative programs to assist survivors of human trafficking, expand anti-trafficking policies, and fundamentally change the way local communities respond to modern slavery.
Katherine received a Master of Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Brown University, and a certificate in Executive Nonprofit Leadership from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
The Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) fights against human trafficking in a unique way. They look at the issues impacting every aspect of human trafficking and attack many issues at the same time. They develop strategies and implement programs to prevent human trafficking, increase victim identification and access to services, and strengthen the health and well-being of survivors.
OTIP is creating a national human trafficking prevention framework and prevention action plan in order to connect efforts to combat human trafficking. They partnered with the CDC and other researchers to strengthen their prevention efforts.
- OTIP has created a huge emphasis on data collection. They are working on creating uniform data standards with the potential for interoperability between government departments. Meaning they are in the process of creating systems that streamline information collection, decrease the burden for the public, increase data security and create opportunities for systems to work together. This also allows for more efficient collaboration efforts.
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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, this is episode number 245, Health and Human Services OTIP Resources.
Production Credits [00:00:09] Produced by Innovate Learning, Maximizing Human Potential.
Dave [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.
Sandie [00:00:36] And my name is Sandie Morgan.
Dave [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking, Sandie. I’m so glad to be back with you today. We are here to feature a wonderful partner and an organization that just does tremendous work on providing resources for all of us in our efforts to end human trafficking. We’re so glad to welcome to the show today, Katherine Chan. She is the founding director of the Office on Trafficking in Persons known as OTIP and Senior Advisor on Human Trafficking at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. OTIP is part of the HHS Administration for Children and Families responsible for developing strategies and implementing programs to prevent trafficking, increase victim identification and access to services, and strengthen the health and well-being of survivors. OTIP also collaborates with government and non-government partners to raise public awareness, identify research priorities and inform policy recommendations to strengthen the nation’s public health response to human trafficking. As the director, Katherine leads the office and determines certification and eligibility of survivors of human trafficking who may be eligible for refugee benefits and services. Katherine, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.
Kathrine [00:01:58] Thank you for having me on. Good morning.
Sandie [00:02:01] I am so glad to have you back. You were an Ensure Justice conference keynote a few years ago and I’ve been in your office a few times when I’ve been out in Washington, D.C. and we always find common ground because of our collective passion for prevention. So, I’m excited to have you back today.
Kathrine [00:02:24] Thank you, Sandie. I think when I was at that Ensure Justice conference, the focus was on the intersection between human trafficking and substance use, which continues to be an issue impacting communities across the country. And the issue of human trafficking intersects with so many other issues that communities are facing. So, I’m glad to be on here and have this conversation with you and Dave.
Sandie [00:02:51] I so value what your office is doing. And the introduction that I gave Dave for you really focused on what you do, not so much about you as an individual, but we can talk a little bit more about that. You do have a master’s in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School, and you also have a degree in psychology. So, you’ve been working in anti-trafficking for a very long time. I think the first time I met you, you were in nonprofit leadership. So, give us kind of don’t tell us how old you are, but give us a number of how many years since you started fighting human trafficking.
Kathrine [00:03:40] I’m now, I think I’m now in my 18th year going into my 19th year in the anti-trafficking field. So started, as you mentioned, in the non-government sector, really working at the grassroots level, working directly with survivors of human trafficking. And at that time, the infrastructure that we have today regarding housing programs and even task forces and the policy landscape was very underdeveloped. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act had just passed a couple of years before, and we had an opportunity to work with the D.C. Police Department and the U.S. attorney’s office here to create one of the first law enforcement community partnership task forces on human trafficking in the country saw the development of one of the first shelter programs and housing programs for survivors of both foreign and domestic victims of trafficking and then was heavily involved in local and state-level policy advocacy. So, I understand the direct needs that communities are facing because that’s how I also started. And it’s been an interesting journey to go from starting a community-based grassroots nonprofit organization to then going inside the federal government to start up a federal entity on combating human trafficking. And, you know, a lot of similarities and some differences. But through it all, one of the key aspects that were integral to success in both sectors, was partnerships.
Sandie [00:05:27] Mm. Oh, and I absolutely loved visiting your department and meeting your team. When I was part of the Public-Private Partnership Advisory Council this last year, I am really struck by the mission statement that and as the founding director, you’ve really crafted this with your team. So, I’m going to read it. It’s an excellent mission statement because it is short. To combat human trafficking by supporting and leading systems that prevent trafficking through public awareness and protect victims through identification and assistance, helping them rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient. Can you give me a little bit of background on how you arrived at including the word systems in your mission statement?
Kathrine [00:06:29] Yes, this was definitely a team effort when OTIP was first formed about five years ago, previous to that, the anti-trafficking efforts at the Department of Health and Human Services was embedded within the Office of Refugee Resettlement. A lot of emphasis on victim service provision, particularly at the time exclusively for foreign national survivors of human trafficking. So, when we came together, it was at a time that recognized that it wasn’t just the refugee resettlement or the unaccompanied children systems that were impacted, but systems assisting Native Americans, runaway homeless youth, the entire child welfare system at HHS. There are so many lives we touch every day through federally qualified health care systems and networks, substance abuse and mental health, as well as many other human services to reach some of the most underserved populations. And so, as a government entity, we saw ourselves as having resources at the systems level and trying to have a better understanding from local communities on what are the gaps, what are the resources that we have, and can we better communicate with each other at the federal level to be responsive to local needs. And all of that would impact systems change and understanding how each of these systems have an opportunity to respond to human trafficking, victimization, as well as contribute to prevention further upstream.
Sandie [00:08:12] And to really look deeper in that role of systems and your influence from your office. You serve an integral role in the president’s interagency task force to monitor and combat human trafficking. Can you sort of really quickly explain why that’s so important to your systems approach?
Kathrine [00:08:39] Sure, so for those who may not be familiar, in the United States, there is a multiagency interagency task force at the federal level involving pretty much every single government department that you can think of, ranging from, of course, health and Human Services to transportation and labor, defense, the intelligence community. And so, when the Office on Trafficking in Persons started, we kind of did a systems analysis of how is the federal government responding to this issue? What are the unique contributions of the Department of Health and Human Services? And we concluded that for us it was really to elevate the importance of understanding how human trafficking is impacting the health and well-being of individuals, their families, the communities, and then bringing all our resources to bear on improving the health and well-being, but then working with other government partners and recognizing, you know, the Department of Justice may be funding these law enforcement task forces on human trafficking, but there are many community partners who could be at that table to contribute to the local anti-trafficking mission and goals. And we see our role as bringing in the public health response, in addition to looking at human trafficking as a crime, as a national security issue, we bring the lens of looking at this from a public health framework so that we can understand, OK, how do we measure our progress and know what’s working and invest in initiatives that are helping to either end human trafficking, prevent human trafficking, and strengthen the health and well-being outcomes of trafficking survivors, their families and communities. So, it’s a very complementary lens to other perspectives at the federal level. And then it also helps shape the programing that then goes out into the local communities, whether it’s grant funding or public awareness campaigns or the types of partnerships that we have, because there are certain things we cannot do on our own at the Office on Trafficking in Persons. And we have a lot of partnerships across the Department of Health and Human Services. But then there are a lot of other goals that we have where it really helps to be able to work with the Department of Defense or the State Department or Labor, Homeland Security, Department of Justice to help speed up and expand the impact that we can have collectively.
Sandie [00:11:30] So I have like 17 more questions just listening to that. I have two of them, though, that I’m going to ask and I’m going to ask them now because I’ll forget the next one. If I don’t, I would like you to expand what the public health lens means for your service programs. And secondly, I want to understand how important breaking down silos really is in a systems-based approach.
Kathrine [00:12:04] Sure. I’ll give a practical response to that based on my very early experiences in the anti-trafficking field in those early experiences, most of the work focused on efforts with the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force. And in the day to day, it was responding to potential cases of human trafficking that law enforcement may have identified, providing trauma-informed screenings and care, finding housing and meeting other basic needs that survivors had at the point we first met them. And after many years of doing that, we came to realize that it was important to provide those emergency and crisis services. But there were larger needs at stake, and sometimes a priority that a survivor is experiencing may not necessarily be the priority or the non-government organization or law enforcement. And there are many other needs that survivors may have that have gone unaddressed or community and environmental conditions that contributed to the victimization that we weren’t necessarily looking at the time because we were really focused on the immediate need. And that was really important. That continues to be important. But I also think that now that there is a much more expansive number of organizations working on the issue of human trafficking, aware of the importance of addressing human trafficking through partnerships, we can have a much broader impact on the multiple push and pull factors that contribute to human trafficking. And this is where it gets to also breaking down the silos in the public health response, where it’s not just looking at the immediate needs, but asking ourselves, OK, is this type of intervention that our task force or coalition or that our organization is doing is this the best use of our resources? How would we know if that can get pretty academic? But for the longer term, it helps to inform strategies on how to best use an organization’s specific resources versus what can be done through partnership and expanding the seats at the table to bring in more people. So, it’s not just those with the clinical or law enforcement, investigative or professional services. There is a strong need for that to continue and to grow and to become stronger. But then there’s also a need for individuals in the community who may not necessarily see themselves or understand what their role could be in the anti-trafficking field. They may not be the person to provide the trauma, informed clinical screening to assess for trafficking, but they can partner with a local school system or youth serving organization and provide mentorship as an effort to contribute to preventing human trafficking and understanding. Who are the. Young people or members of our community who may be at most risk, not just to human trafficking, but a lot of other exploitative situations that they may come across. So, the short of it is that a public health response helps to define a problem that’s very localized to the community and it helps to expand the number or who’s at the table and who can contribute to both the immediate needs as well as the long term needs and then the preventative work to strengthen a community’s response in the longest long term to human trafficking. And if you can get to answering those questions and then down the line, do we know what we’re doing is working? Is this the most trauma informed and survivor-centered? Are we bringing survivor voices into this? What that does in process is to break down those silos so that across these sectors, systems or organizations, entities are sharing more data. Organizations are collaborating on a centralized or a shared public awareness messaging so that there aren’t multiple public awareness campaigns that may potentially be duplicating resources. They could be sharing, pooling together resources around advocacy if they want to see change at the systemic level, bringing their voices together regarding policy changes that may need to happen or institutional protocol changes that could happen. So, it really is by expanding the table. In some ways, communities are just required to come together and break down those silos of information and resources and strategic insight, and that in the long term will build the relationships and the strength of that social capital to also strengthen a community’s response to human trafficking and other forms of violence.
Sandie [00:17:33] Wow. I would love to break all of that down, but we will have to do that in another episode. So, I hear from people that kind of fall into two different categories. One, volunteer calls and says, I want to work with victims. They have no experience, but they’re very passionate. Another person I meet in a public sector and I identify very quickly that they are key players in prevention because they’re working with kids with substance abuse disorder and things like that. Are there any tools to help me in my community identify those folks so that we can figure out how to get them around the same table so they can see the interconnectedness, so they can see that systems perspective that you’re talking about?
Kathrine [00:18:27] So, Sandie, I’m so glad that you asked that question because I’m excited to share that. Just a couple of months ago, we released the first-ever National Human Trafficking Prevention Framework and Prevention Action Plan. And what we did was we worked with the CDC and other researchers, subject matter experts, survivors, and came up with the framework for what it will take for us to strengthen prevention efforts in regard to human trafficking, borrowing from other violence prevention sectors. So, preventing the best available evidence in preventing child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, suicide, community levels of violence. And we pulled all that together to assess how many of these strategies and tactics would be applicable to human trafficking. And then where are the gaps, where those other forms of violence, the main differentiation between other forms of violence and human trafficking is that human trafficking occurs in a commercialized space. And so, then we look to U.S. advisory councils and other federal advisory boards to fill in the gaps of a proposing a framework for others to join us and work together in various ways of preventing both labor trafficking and sex trafficking. And this is in part a framework and in part an action plan that is a call for partnerships. And so, the partnerships can happen at an organizational level, at a government level, and then it can also happen at an individual level. So, what we invite your listeners to do, wherever they are in the world, is looking at the framework. And the proposed actions that at minimum, the various programs at the Department of Health and Human Services are committing to take regarding preventing human trafficking and then identify ways that you as an individual or as an organization, have the resources, the skills and talents to contribute to this national dialog around how do we uplift and elevate the prevention of human trafficking. Because Sandie, you were just mentioning, a lot of times people get overwhelmed, like where is my role in this? Or even when we think about prevention, it seems so diffuse. And what we are aiming to do through this framework and action plan is to narrow it down, focus on the relevance specifically to human trafficking, and invite individuals and organizations and government agencies to work together, either with us or with each other to implement some of these strategies.
Sandie [00:21:24] I am so excited about that. And that kind of leads to your second priority on your Web page, and that is developing a culture of data-informed programming. So how will that work because you talked about using evidence-based data from other issues? What does that look like? How am I going to create a culture of data collection right here where I live?
Kathrine [00:21:56] So first, I’ll start off with what we’ve done so far in the last five years around this. We saw that most of the data available in the United States were either very local victim service data that at the individual organizational level or in terms of national data sets, it was mostly law enforcement driven that the data that DOJ funded task forces are reporting in as an example and what we decided to do within the Department of Health and Human Services is assess all the data that, as we mentioned, our systems touch, and we made a concerted effort. So now, as a sign of progress from just five years ago, we’ve integrated data on human trafficking into runaway homeless youth data systems, the child abuse and neglect data systems, foster care data systems into health care diagnostic codes. The ICD 10 codes have been updated to include data on both suspected and confirmed trafficking cases. We’ve also made a concerted effort to create some uniform data standards across HHS anti-trafficking programs because believe it or not, in the last 20 years that had not happened, and each program was reporting different things and we weren’t able to share with each other in our ideal goal. And this gets to your silos earlier silos question is that we want to make steps to enable interoperability. And what that means in simple terms is enable data systems to talk to each other while maintaining data security, individual privacy. So, if let’s say, for example, you know, an organization that’s reporting data into the Department of Justice and needs report data as a grant of HHS in the future, we want to make it possible for data sets to talk so that an organization does not have to doubly enter their data. And we can coordinate with the Department of Justice to decrease the burden on that organization. Or it may mean that if let’s say, we certify a survivor of human trafficking to be eligible for refugee benefits and services, there are automatic information ways for us to then directly connect with a local service organization providing services for that particular population and make it much more streamlined referral process for survivors of human trafficking. So that’s what we’ve done. So now there are in twenty nineteen. The first annual reporting of child welfare data had included a trends analysis on what states were reporting regarding trafficking and children in the child welfare system who’ve been exploited through trafficking schemes. And we are in conversation with health care providers and health care institutions. Now that these ICD 10 codes include human trafficking, what are the ethical parameters for when to put in, fill out that particular data element versus not in providing additional policy guidance in working with health care providers? To address their questions or concerns around reporting this information, and so there is promise, because for researchers, that means a few years down the line, they can have both the criminal justice data as well as health and human service data to strengthen our understanding of who’s impacted by human trafficking and how. And then how could that further inform programming or policy?
Sandie [00:25:51] I hope that people who are listening are going to spend some time digging in on your website to look at what is growing. Some of the things that we understand from this culture of data, of research are if we’re not measuring something, we’re missing it. We’re not even seeing it. We don’t have any way we might have a demonstration and protest, but we don’t have any evidence so that our leaders can make policy decisions. Our time is almost out. There is so much to learn. Please, listeners, go to the website, dig around, pay attention to the resources that are there. But my last question for you, Katherine. As a longtime leader in addressing human trafficking, I. I love this quote from the founder of the Salvation Army, Kathryn Booth. She said, If we are to better the future, we must disturb the present. What do you want to disturb in 2021?
Kathrine [00:27:00] That is a very powerful quote. Thank you for sharing that Sandie. One of the things that we must disturb to take that term from Kathryn Booth, is our understanding of the historical connections and the intergenerational trauma that contributes to human trafficking today. And I think many of your listeners already understand that human trafficking does not occur in a vacuum and that there are various risk factors that would make certain populations at disproportionate risk for human trafficking. We know that human traffickers are proactively targeting vulnerabilities in our community. And then oftentimes our lens on why this victimization is happening is at a very individual level and there are many individual factors that we’re still trying to understand. However, this year, I think there could also be an opportunity to layer on top of that, not just the family or community risk factors because I think as a field, we’re getting more towards that. But the historical legacies and again, this is at both the individual and systems level, the historical legacies of prior injustices, experiences of oppression, and inequities that contribute to the disproportionate risk today. And what we’re attempting to do more this year is to work with communities that have been impacted by human trafficking across generations, working with families that are struggling to break the cycles of violence, including human trafficking, and have an understanding of healing the past historical traumas as a way to contribute to preventing risk for future victimization. And I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like for this year, other than recognizing that there are many challenging conversations that communities need to have together. And perhaps the government may not be the best convener of those conversations. But what we see ourselves or what I see are one small office within the federal government doing is recognizing the need to have those conversations, because still to this day, when we work and reach out to certain communities, it is really hard to have conversations about human trafficking and publicly recognize it as a problem because of so much of the intergenerational pain and trauma that that particular community may be facing. And we know that without confronting the past, we can’t really work on the present-day issues. And so, to address Catherine Booth’s quote, if we are to better the future, we must disturb the present. I would want to add. To that, if we are to better the future, we must disturb the present and also acknowledge the past. To contribute to the healing process, I think is an important step that certainly our office will seek to make this year without fully knowing what that path is but committed to that and working with communities and families and supporting the important survivors driven and grassroots-driven work that’s out there.
Sandie [00:30:54] Thank you so much, Catherine. I’m going to add that to my desktop quote of Catherine’s and the past. My experience working overseas in Argentina, interviewing Diana Mãe and her work in India. That past is a key. It’s not just something that we need to do in the U.S., but every country, every government, every community-based organization needs to evaluate and consider where that factors into the vulnerabilities in the people that they serve. We could talk for hours, but Dave is telling me my time is up, so we will have you back for my listeners will put links to everything Catherine and I have talked about in the show. Notes and share this with your community, with your friends as we move into opportunities to break down silos, to build systems that prevent human trafficking, and protect survivors.
Dave [00:32:03] Well, thank you so much for this conversation. And we’re inviting you also to take the next step, hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know: A QuickStart Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It will teach you the five critical things that Sandie identified in her work that you should know before joining us. You can get access to that just by going over to Endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s also the best place for all the resources we mentioned today will be linking up to all those. And also, while you’re online, we’d invite you to discover more about the Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate program here at Vanguard University. You can find more details again at Endinghumantrafficking.org. We will be back for our next conversation in two weeks. Thanks, Sandie and see you soon.