Jayne Huckerby, the inaugural director of a new Duke Law School clinic, spoke to the University Scholars Program Monday about human trafficking and the challenges of combating misconceptions regarding the subject.
Originally from Sydney, Australia, Huckerby has been an advocate for human rights for more than 10 years, dealing with topics such as gender in human rights and post-Arab Spring issues. Huckerby has also worked with the United Nations and the New York University law center.
During her speech, Huckerby emphasized the challenges advocates can face when dealing with human trafficking. For example, she attempted to convince the audience that human trafficking is a human rights violation. Because these issues often get treated as criminal issues, the victims themselves can be criminalized rather than helped.
According to Huckerby, in many countries, victims are asked to cooperate with law enforcement before they receive assistance. Besides not allowing the victim to get healthy and mentally stable before being subjected to such pressures, Huckerby said the victims could become fearful of law enforcement. Rather than receiving help from the police, these victims are frequently arrested for charges like prostitution.
“Undocumented individuals could be afraid to come forth because they fear punishment, and that is not helping someone who has undergone a major human violation,” Huckerby said.
Huckerby said there’s a divide in advocates between abolitionists and non-abolitionists that causes issues. Though some of them think that certain acts should be criminalized in order to prevent human trafficking from occurring, others argue that this only leads to the victims getting punished more than helped, she said.
Another issue Huckerby addressed was the frequent assumption that trafficking doesn’t occur in Western nations.
According to Huckerby, during the summer of 2013, North Carolina passed a new law that reworked its previous trafficking legislation. The law instituted a program called Safe Harbor, which grants minors immunity from being charged with prostitution after being victims of trafficking.
Though Huckerby said she was glad steps were being taken to reduce human trafficking, she said she worries that these types of laws, which strictly emphasize sex trafficking, give the false impression that labor trafficking is not an issue in N.C. when a 2012 federal report found that the percentage of labor trafficking is nearly equal to that of sex trafficking.
Huckerby said it’s hard to decide whether it’s best to support the progress and the new law or to push for there to be even more changes in the legislation.
In 2010, the U.S. began ranking countries in regard to how severe their human trafficking problems were but failed to include itself in the list. Though the U.S. is now ranked, Huckerby said the dangerous stereotype that Western nations are immune to the issue still exists.
Fatima Fatako, a freshman in electrical engineering who is currently involved with Girl Rising, a movement dedicated to encouraging young girls to pursue education, said the U.S. should work to eliminate this problem domestically before helping other countries.
“Before trying to fix the world, focus more at home,” Fatako said. “Don’t staple it on to another place. It pertains to us, too.”
Huckerby also criticized government efforts that simply implanted agencies in foreign countries without collaborating with governments.
“My overarching rule is that local advocates would be most appropriate,” Huckerby said. “If I’m not going to be helpful, I’m going to go behind the scenes and work in the back.”
Huckerby said she worked with a global alliance against the trafficking of women about seven years ago, and, after doing a critique of their own work, the organization found that good intentions of an agency can often hurt the victims, because they are not aware of how things operate in a specific region.
Huckerby also spoke about the challenge of trying to figure out who’s involved in human trafficking because most people haven’t experienced it first hand.
For example, Huckerby said a common misconception is that sex trafficking is the leading form of trafficking and that only females and children are victims, when in reality, labor and male trafficking are also critical issues.
“Our vision of the traditional population was young women trapped for sex and sent across international borders,” Huckerby said, “Numbers and statistics can be thrown around, but there is not a good sense of what is actually going on.”
Huckerby said that at conferences last year in Nigeria and Thailand, human rights activists discussed the issue of who’s victimized by human trafficking in an attempt to discount misconceptions about the issue.
Huckerby addressed the audience right before the lecture ended and said she hopes the next generation will be able to further integrate technology into advocacy and that they will remain aware that there is always something that can be done to help.
Huckerby said everyone, especially students, have the power to help end human trafficking.
“Every individual can make a meaningful impact, but our impact is enhanced if we can learn to build coalitions, in our communities and transnationally, to advocate for human rights,” Huckerby said.