249 – How to Include Survivors, with Amy Rahe

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Amy Rahe, Freedom Fund Director of North America, discuss the global anti-slavery organization Freedom Fund and their role in anti-human trafficking. They speak on the importance of organizations being survivor-informed and what that looks like in practice.

Amy Rahe

Amy Rahe is a leading voice on the need for survivors to be included in more meaningful ways within the anti-slavery movement through avenues such as employment and leadership. She joined the Freedom Fund in 2020 as Director of North America, managing major partnerships and engagements, and is active as part of the global management team.  Amy is a passionate advocate for sustained liberation pointing to the need for long-term support to survivors and working to dismantle the root causes that allow modern-day slavery to flourish. She describes herself as a storyteller, catalyst, and connection maker.

Key Points

  • The Freedom Fund is a global anti-slavery organization, that identifies and invests in the most impactful frontline organizations in areas with the highest prevalence of exploitation (both sex and labor trafficking).
  • The Freedom Fund invests in these organizations with funding from donors interested in directly supporting communities most impacted by modern slavery and with support in scaling these organizations and networking with one another to have an even deeper impact.
  • Being survivor-informed means being survivor-led. We need to make room for survivors in the fight against human trafficking.
  • A survivor may have many opportunities to better themselves; however, if we do not provide access, they are still going to be stuck in the same place.
  • Survivors are very much capable of leading and working in the anti-trafficking space, we just need to provide them access to the opportunities.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, this is episode number 249, How to Include Survivors with Amy Rahe


Production Credits [00:00:10] 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 [00:00:39] 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, today, again, we have another friend and partner with us to help us to continue to get better at not only ending human trafficking but also serving those who are affected by it. I’m so glad to welcome to the show today. Amy Rahe. She is a leading voice on the need for survivors to be included in more meaningful ways within the antislavery movement through avenues such as employment and leadership. She joined the Freedom Fund in 2020 as director of North America, managing major partnerships and engagements and is an active part of the global management team. Amy is a passionate advocate for sustained liberation, pointing to the need for long-term support to survivors and working to dismantle the root causes that allow modern-day slavery to flourish. She describes herself as a storyteller, catalyst, and connection maker. Amy, we’re so glad to have you here on the show.


Amy [00:01:45] I’m so pleased to be here. Thank you so much for a warm introduction and welcome.


Sandie [00:01:50] So, Amy, I haven’t known you very long. I met you when you presented on a State Department webinar and you captured my heart when you really challenged people about providing scholarships for survivors. I’m at a university and this has been something I’ve struggled to do. But we have four recipients right now. And it’s just so empowering to hear other people talking about education as a transformation for survivors. So, I’m really just excited to learn more from you. And I think where I’d like to start is for us to hear a little bit about what Freedom Fund does.


Amy [00:02:45] Yeah, and that’s a wonderful place to start. Firstly, let me just say I’m so glad that we did get to connect after that webcast, that webinar. And I will say that a lot of people reached out after that comment about education because I think it’s such an important one. But I will digress from that moment and talk about the Freedom Fund. So, we’re a global anti-slavery organization. And what the Freedom Fund does is identify the most impactful frontline organizations and areas with the highest prevalence of slavery. And what we do is through identifying those frontline organizations that are having a high level of impact, we then invest in them and we invest in them with both funding and through support with scale because we recognize that organizations that are closer, that are closest to the work and to what’s happening may not have access both to major donors or to the support that they might need to get access to those major donors, to being able to have financial reporting or being able to scale their organization. And that also allows them to network with one another to be able to have even deeper impacts. And a part of why we do that is to then drive change from the bottom up. So really, we operate with the belief that through supporting communities, we can support the change that we hope to see. So those communities will then organize together and petition for better support, better lives, better governance, and really create change in policy and the change that they need to see.


Sandie [00:04:30] So as I’ve studied more about what Freedom Fund does, I began to understand their role in supporting research as well. And I love the Praxis study. And can you give us a little like just a snippet of what that study is and its significance?


Amy [00:04:55] The Sustain Liberation report is something that is near and dear to my heart. So, Praxis partnered with the Freedom Fund and the University of Nottingham and did a study of 88 survivors and did interviews with 88 survivors in northern India, both adult survivors of modern slavery and children, and asked, what does sustained liberation look like for you? What does it mean to retain freedom? And all these survivors are one to three years free, one to three years out of that situation of exploitation that they went to where they receive services from our partners, and what I find fascinating and critical about the responses is across the board, both children and adults. We’re saying what we need is choice, access to choose, and choice in how we live our lives, including primarily employment or financial stability. The children wanted a choice to play, but they also wanted to ensure that their family was financially stable, and that tended to mean that they needed to find work. But it also signals that the family needs financial stability. And I find that so powerful because oftentimes in the space, economic stability and empowerment is one of the last things we think about when it comes to supporting survivors. And one of the last things that was talked about for all the survivors was access to mental health support. Not to say that that is not important or critical. It is. But without economic stability, without financial stability, even if we just think about ourselves, can we truly have can anyone truly have stable mental health? So, it’s a powerful report. And I think while it takes place in northern India, it’s something that’s applicable to the entire movement globally.


Sandie [00:07:08] Oh, I agree with you completely. And during covid, it’s been amplified here in the US because even well-established survivors have been lured back into exploitation because they had no options. And what frustrates me so much and Amy, I love talking to you because it’s like I get to hear my own dreams out loud and because I argue with people when they say, well, we need to do better training with survivors, so they don’t make poor choices. That inflames me because if their choice is to be homeless or to take this risk for a sketchy job, is that a choice? That’s no option right now.


Amy [00:08:02] Absolutely. I think this took back that point around places so poignant and so important and not talked about enough within the space. And that’s something that I think we’ve talked about before. And I’ve probably almost put my head through a wall several times because it’s easy to talk about the horrors of modern slavery, be it sex trafficking via labor trafficking, get bonded labor. There’s so many instances of exploitation and we can talk about the horrors. We can talk about the atrocities. And then when we get into this conversation about what we just need to rescue, we need to pull out, we need to support people in making a better choice or we need to focus on mental health, we’re not getting to the root of why. Why is it that so many people, that so many people are winding up in situations of exploitation, the most extreme situations of exploitation? Right. And there’s this question, why is it and if we really want to go down that rabbit hole, then we’re going to talk about systems and we’re going to talk about what are the choices that people are facing. And like you said, if that choice if my choice is to be homeless and to starve or to take a job opportunity in a country where I know nobody with a language that I don’t speak, I’m going to take that job opportunity if it’s offering me shelter, food, the potential to make income, that I could then pay for my family. With that, I could then think that I might be able to use for school, that I think I might be able to save up. So, then I could return home and build a life and build a business. And that’s not real, that’s not empowered choice, it’s a choice, but it’s not an empowered choice, and that’s a situation that millions upon millions of people are facing every day.


Sandie [00:10:18] Wow. OK, so lest we fall into the let’s agree with each other on everything else, kind of get into the meat of the title of this episode, and let’s talk about what Survivor inclusion and leadership really means.


Amy [00:10:35] OK, shall I dive in?


Sandie [00:10:38] No, you go right ahead. And just for listeners who have never met Amy, I’m going to put a link to her personal blog about her journey as a survivor into leadership in this space.


Amy [00:10:52] So I’ll start with talking a little bit about why I didn’t come into this space for so long. As a survivor. So, to put some context around what I believe being survivor-informed and being survivor-led truly means. I got involved in this space around 2013, I taught a class at UC Berkeley about domestic sex trafficking and through that class I met an incredible survivor, Leader Minh Dang, who currently runs Survivor Alliance. And we became instant friends, and she was trying to get me to be more involved in the work. I had simultaneously started a job at a financial services company. And what I learned this is quite quickly is the way that survivors were being involved, were being included, was through telling our stories of pain and trauma. And it became quite clear that if I got involved deeply within this space, I would have to get on a stage and talk about my trauma and talk about my situation of exploitation. And I felt deeply, deeply uncomfortable with that, which is something I still more as a point to be made that I still don’t tend to talk about unless it’s one on one that I don’t get on the stage to do it for personal reasons. But I decided to stay out of the space and continue to do volunteer work until about two years ago when I realized that I needed to align my values and my inspiration with my work. And I was working closely with Minh Dang at Survivor Alliance, and we would talk about this often and talk about the fact that so many people in this space do talk about survivor inclusion. We’ve gotten to a point of recognizing it’s imperative to include survivors. However, most times when we talk about survivor inclusion, we are talking about checking a box. We’re talking about a one-off activity to show that we’ve done it. And it typically looks something like hiring somebody and paying them for consultancy, maybe not paying them, but asking survivors to look at something or to sign off on something, maybe asking a survivor to speak at an event likely to tell their story. And typically, again, it’s just a one-off check box. And we can say that we are survivor informed. We have included survivors. But what I want to challenge people to think about is being survivor-informed means being survivor-led. And when I see Survivor led, I do mean power-sharing. And that’s a concept that we haven’t fully grappled with within the space we’re starting to be forced to, and I say that with a positive note, even though I think it’s quite painful and difficult for people, particularly after last year’s murder of George Floyd and everybody began talking deeply about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. And what does that mean when we put that lens onto the space? So, if we think about where we are, where we started the checkboxes that we’re used to. What does it mean to be a survivor-led? Well, it means when we’re starting a new organization, ensuring that we make every attempt to hire survivors within the organization at a leadership level, it means when we’re creating new programs, if we cannot hire survivors, we are hiring survivor consultants from the beginning to input into what we are creating. We’re not doing it after the fact to give us a pat on the back. It means that we’re providing access to meaningful inclusion, inclusion to a space that is about our lives. It’s about our freedom. You know, the anti-trafficking and anti-slavery space is an outlier in most movements, combating a particular type of oppression. Most movements, if we think about women’s rights or more, currently me to think about civil rights or black lives matter. It would be strange to think about we’ll take the me-too movement. It would be strange to think about men running that space. And yet in the antislavery space, most of the largest organizations, either globally or domestically, are not run by survivors and in fact even struggle to hire survivors in other positions. And so, I want to challenge people to think about how do we begin the process of sharing our power? How do we begin those steps to ensure that survivors have access to leadership, access to meaningful inclusion?


Sandie [00:16:50] So access is one of my favorite words. When I was researching in northern Iraq on building capacity for women in higher education leadership, what I discovered and I see this across the anti-trafficking space as well, lots of opportunity and NGOs, nonprofits, churches, community leaders, they have posters, opportunities for survivors to get public speaking skills, to get vocational training. I had as a program with who knows what kind of skill set, but they have these opportunities. But there’s no access. There’s no on-ramp to help them get a car so they can go take it to Southern California. To take a bus to a job that’s five miles away, might take you three hours with all the connections. Our public transportation is almost nonexistent. And so, the opportunity doesn’t include access, lots of opportunities. But you’ve got to have a high school diploma. You must have your convictions vacated. If you were arrested at some point in your expectation, and the idea of access because the jobs that are minimum wage are not sustainable in our economy. So, you need a college education to get the kind of job that you want. But if you don’t have that, access eliminates the opportunity. And so, I over the years have hosted several survivor roundtables. At first, I did it quietly and then I began to understand that it opened opportunities for building relationships between survivors so that they started networking themselves because they create power when they’re networking. And I’ll never forget hearing Rachel Thomas, who is well known for ending the game, and some of her other work say to a labor trafficking young man from the Philippines with tears in her eyes, I never understood what labor trafficking felt like. And I had no real understanding. And I watched the empathy between these different types of trafficking, victimization, change in the room. And so, one of the things that. I want to understand better is how do we have the, for want of a better word, variety of experiences in Survivor leadership, because it can’t be all sex trafficking or all labor trafficking from my vantage point.


Amy [00:19:55] Yeah, it’s a brilliant question. And I think the simple answer is we need to make space for it. And obviously, it’s much more complicated than that, particularly if we’re talking about the United States. If I think about the work that we do at the Freedom Fund, which is global, most of our work is focused on ending labor trafficking in various areas. And a part of what we do in those areas is support alliances or networks of survivors and coming together and mobilizing and organizing. And I think in the US, the complication is that this space that created around sex trafficking. So, most of the time I’m in New York. If I tell somebody I work in the anti-trafficking space, I combat human trafficking. Everybody, almost everybody, 90 percent of people think that I am talking about women coming from other countries being sex trafficked without the understanding that primarily when we’re talking about modern slavery, what we’re talking about is mostly labor trafficking. And so, firstly, I do think that we must create more space for the conversation around labor trafficking, because in the United States, many areas, many states do not recognize labor trafficking as being an issue, do not acknowledge that it’s happening there locally, and it is happening all over the U.S. And without that acknowledgments, it’s very difficult to set up in NGOs to support survivors, and without those NGOs, it’s very difficult to then organize trafficking, labor trafficking survivors. I think the other element that’s important to note, and I would say this both about sex trafficking survivors and labor trafficking survivors, is people don’t want to or don’t just simply don’t identify as a labor trafficking survivor. Someone may know that they are in a situation that is horrible. They may know that they are being abused and used and not paid and taken all over and beat and whatever that might be. I mean, I didn’t understand that I had been sex trafficked until I read Rachel Lloyd’s “Girls Like Us”. And I read that and realize, oh, that’s my experience. And even then, it took me years to be comfortable saying I’m a sex trafficking survivor. And so, I think without acknowledgment that it’s happening, which then, you know, creates the space of not having NGOs. So, without the appropriate NGOs or support of such survivors, it makes it near impossible to create that network.


Sandie [00:23:18] So the Survivor Alliance has representation right here in the U.S., in all North America, right?


Amy [00:23:27] Yes. So, Survivor Alliance is an alliance or a network of survivors of human trafficking from around the world. There’s a strong base in the U.S. and the Survivor Alliance is for both sex trafficking and labor trafficking survivors.


Sandie [00:23:44] We’re going to put a link to that in the show notes. And I want people to spend some time on their resources because they have guidelines for practical things like ground rules for the survivors. So, they have some coaching and fundamentals for compensation and expenses. It makes me crazy, crazy. When people invite a survivor and instead of, to teach us to want just to hear a story and then give them a gift card to a coffee shop, they can’t pay their bills with that. So really, this list of resources will help you as an NGO leader or a community member, know what your responsibility is so that you’re not really exploiting victims. That’s one of the things that really concerns me a great deal. So, looking at this from a leadership perspective, I have not figured out how to help here in my own community how to be an ally for survivors in leadership, except to you know, I use the human trafficking Ending Human Trafficking podcast as a platform. I host events. But at a university, it’s a little complicated because they’ve got to have the academic pedigree to apply for four positions here. And I just wonder if you have some ideas about how to help us see real movement about including survivors in more meaningful ways.


Amy [00:25:39] Yeah, I mean, there is a lot of ways to go from here. So, you know, the first thing I think the first step, and this is a step that many people are taking is including a budget line for hiring Survivor consultants, not necessarily having a plan on when and where that’s going to happen, but ensuring every year when you create a budget, you’ve got a good amount of funding in there so that, you know, should you want to start a new program, hire consultants for that, and potentially add a survivor to your board and realize that that Survivor may need compensation for their time using that budget line for that. So, I think that you know, one of the first steps I would say the second thing, and this is something we’ve done at the Freedom Fund in partnership with Survivor Alliance, and I am a huge advocate for it. And it’s one of my babies is a survivor fellowship. Sometimes people say, well, we can’t just hire anyone, or people are worried about hiring a survivor because there’s a lot of stigmas attached to hiring us. And so, what we created and what we’ve started doing is having a year-long fellowship for survivors, not just to bring survivors into our organization, but to support access. Right. This fellowship allows for survivors to be paid, to have benefits, to get experience at an organization that’s well known and a global organization so that they can then either get hired within the same organization or go on to another NGO or go on to a corporation. But to be able to get gain the skills that they need to go on to another job. Sometimes the barriers for access are gaps in our CV. And so, this also provides a way to have a yearlong opportunity where people are gaining real skills and real access and are starting to make their way into leadership. So, one thing is the supporting initiatives that are developing the leadership of survivors. One of the things that we’re doing in southern India now is called Freedom Rising and Freedom Rising is a program that supports women and survivors into positions of leadership in the antislavery space in southern India. We had realized that the organizations we were supporting were primarily led by men without lived experience of trafficking. And there were a lot of reasons why women or survivors weren’t getting into those leadership positions. And one of those reasons is are not being supported or don’t have access to leadership skills training. And so, we’ve started a program to support that, and we intend on building that and moving that to other countries in which we work. And so, finding opportunities to do something like that is powerful. And then the last thing that I’ll say is like how we think about D.E.I. and really trying to expand our reach and how we hire and how we think about hiring. The anti-trafficking space needs to do this at every level, at every level. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me survivors are not ready. Survivors don’t have skills. It is insane to me the number of pathologies of survivors that happens in this space, both by allies and survivors. We do it for ourselves and it makes me sad. It makes me frustrated because I know so many survivors who are not only capable but who are doing it. And all that’s needed is the belief and getting rid of that stigma that we’ve created in the space that we are all too traumatized to be able to do anything more than tell our stories of pain and trauma. We must get rid of that. And the only way that we get rid of that is by creating access to other opportunities for survivors.


Sandie [00:30:14] Wow. That is valuable advice. And we’re going to spend some more time unpacking that in months ahead. Amy, final question. And you have like 60 seconds to answer this. What would be your advice as a survivor to a survivor in college? College is hard. And what is your advice?


Amy [00:30:41] First, they just say you’re not alone. I think it can feel really isolating to carry the weight of the experience, link up with a network like Survivor Alliance to find other people to brainstorm with if you can find a mentor. I have found mentorship incredibly helpful through every stage of my life, both peer mentorship and mentorship by people who had very different lives and experiences and just know that you can learn from anyone. You can learn from every experience and from every person who enters your life. So do not limit those interactions by thinking our experience makes it so that nobody can understand us and that we can’t learn from others. There’s a lot of knowledge that comes in mysterious and magical ways.


Sandie [00:31:39] Oh, I love that. Amy, it is so wonderful to get your insights. The listeners, we’re going to post links to everything Amy talked about. And I encourage you to go to the show notes and click on those. It is a rich reservoir, and it also includes a link to the Health and Human Services tool kit for Survivor Engagement, which really provides a guideline for making plans. And if you intend to apply for any state or federal funding, you will begin to find that best practice requires that you demonstrate how you’re involving survivors in your leadership and in your programs. So be prepared and start studying now. Thank you, Amy.


Amy [00:32:31] Thank you so much for having me. This is a pleasure.


Dave [00:32:35] Thank you both. Wow, what an important call to action you’ve had for us. Amy, I so appreciate you sharing your experience and challenging us to think differently. That is really what we are about on the show, is challenging all of us to really study these issues, be a voice, and make a difference. And we’re inviting you to take the first step. If you haven’t already, please gone online and download a copy of Sandy’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A QuickStart Guide to ending human trafficking, especially if you are listening in with us for the first time or one of the first few times. This guide will teach you the five critical things that Sandie has identified through her work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access to that by going over to Endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s also the very best place to go, not only for the notes on this episode but every other episode. And it’s just a wonderful starting point for you on the next steps in your journey. And if you are wanting to take a significant next step, I’d also invite you to learn more about the antihuman trafficking certificate program that we have here at Vanguard University in partnership with the Global Center for Women and Justice. Details of that also at Endinghumantrafficking.org. And of course, we will be back with you for our next conversation in two weeks. Thanks so much, Sandie. Have a great day.


Sandie [00:34:06] Bye Dave.


Dave [00:34:06] Take care, everybody.


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