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Survivor-informed policies and programs

For the past fifteen years I have worked side by side with survivors of prostitution and trafficking. Without a doubt, survivors are people whose voices should be heard and whose unique perspectives on their experiences should be respected. It is disheartening to read other contributions to this blog and to discover that pimp-controlled organizations are still attempting to silence the survivor’s voice. In my opinion, individuals only react this way when they feel threatened. Please don’t let their threats silence you and please continue to let your voices be heard!

This blog is a call to action for survivor/leader voices to be involved in policy-making in the public sphere within international, national, regional, state and local government entities. Survivor-informed public policies are critical to ensuring that policies work in practice on the ground level and to ensuring that front-line staff have the tools to assist victims in transforming their lives from victims to survivors and potentially leaders. Adding the survivor’s voice will help to avoid the pitfalls of unintended policy consequences and waste of limited resources.

In some ways, the policies in the United States have come a long way. I remember the days when there was no specific law to address trafficking, when prostitution was viewed as a “victimless crime”, and when deceased prostituted women were labeled “NHI, No Human Involved.” by the Los Angeles Police Department. I remember when, for many people, there was no link at all between prostitution and trafficking. In 2000, when I first reviewed the TVPA, I immediately understood that requiring victims to testify against their traffickers might be a major problem. I want the pimps and traffickers prosecuted as much as anyone else-but, never at the expense of the victims. Prosecution should always be a victim’s right and not a requirement! While subsequent reauthorizations of the TVPA have lessened the burden on the victim and I applaud that insight, the language of the public law should have been reviewed by survivors initially in order to maximize the law’s impact. Only three victims were certified the first year the law was enacted. I think that the burden of prosecution certainly must have played a part.

Survivors’ voices and perspectives should inform public policies as well as programmatic initiatives. Survivor-informed programs are critical to effective and appropriate service delivery. Programs such as Breaking Free, Veronica’s Voice, GEMS, and Courtney’s House. The field of human trafficking is becoming mainstreamed. As “experts” arrive on the scene, it is imperative to incorporate survivors into every agency and policy-making body to assist in the development and implementation of programs. Survivor-informed programs will waste fewer resources, serve clients more effectively and increase the likelihood of making a difference to the victim on the street, trapped in the brothel or exploited over the Internet. For some of us, our voices are a vehicle for healing the violence, trauma and abuse experienced in prostitution.

I recommend survivor-informed policies and programs with survivors themselves included as equal partners at all levels – from staff positions, to the board of directors, to the government official. Survivors are some of the most dedicated, creative and intelligent people in our movement so, let us use our voices and please compensate us appropriately!


  1. You know, I never thought I could make a difference. I was a prostitute for over 10 years and so much happened in that time. I have always wanted to give back to other women in my position and now I have the chance to do that. What you have here is amazing and I wish there was more of it where I live. Thank you for what you are doing for us all.

  2. Thank You for your insight into the issue of survivors having a voice in policy. Here in Australia a Royal Commission is currently looking into institutional sexual abuse regarding children in ‘care’ of all types. One of the issues which has come out of the work of the Royal Commission has been an argument over whether there should be a survivor (former victim) on the board formulating compensation policy. It has been strongly argued that there shouldn’t be.

    I am a Forgotten Australian (one of the children who grew up in Government and/or Church ‘care’). I was prostituted, raped, tortured and pressured into marriage while in ‘care’. I feel strongly that a survivor should be on the board but was not able to formulate my reasons why. I know this is a separate issue in many ways but still feel your arguments are valid across that board for survivors of all kinds of atrocities. Thank you so much for giving me the arguments I need to push for a voice for my people. Keep up the amazing work *hugs*

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