Building Awareness of Human Trafficking Beyond the Stereotypes

silhouette of man standingOn a recent trip through one of America’s busiest airports, I noticed a series of arresting posters. They were hard not to notice. Among the standard signage directing passengers to gates and terminals hung imposing scenes of women in various positions of restraint with copy that urged travelers to be vigilant about survivors of human trafficking. A young, white woman behind bars, an unseen person physically covering the mouth of another woman, a set of bound hands. The images certainly capture attention, but they tell an incomplete story and promote dangerous stereotypes about human trafficking (some of which I mentioned in a previous blog).

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A Vital Takeaway from 2019: Collaboration May Be Our Strongest Tool

People walking on a calendar

As 2019 comes to a close, we reflect on the year’s accomplishments. 2019 is my first year working at the Justice Programs Office and on the Right to Counsel National Campaign (R2C), and I’ve been surprised by the level of collaboration I see between criminal justice stakeholders on the issue of the right to counsel. Perhaps I had low expectations—when your justice system model is called “adversarial,” common goals don’t sound easy to come by—but as I learned more about the repercussions of poor public defense, I began to understand the imperative for collaboration. An effective public defense delivery system helps other parts of the criminal justice system function properly, and many of those who work in this system every day understand that. In terms of meaningful, systemic change, I’m aware that an interest in working together is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a key start. I’d like to touch on a couple of highlights from 2019 that can inspire us as we move forward.

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It’s Time to Graduate

Man shaking hands with a drug treatment court graduateRemember the music from the early 2000s? And how endless debates about which boy band was the best or who was a better performer between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera filled our ears. Then, there were many one-hit wonders like Vitamin C who released Graduation (Friends Forever). Below is an excerpt from the lyrics:

“As we go on/We remember/All the times we/Had together/And as our lives change/Come whatever/We will still be/Friends forever.”

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Changing Course: Counteracting the Criminalization of Trafficking Survivors

Young african american with his head down

Over the past decade, there has been an increased public awareness that sex trafficking survivors are being arrested and prosecuted for prostitution. Accordingly, many jurisdictions have opened specialty courts for these survivors. This is progress, but in the grand scheme of things, we have only scratched the surface of the problem.

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The Price of Service

feet of a veteran with his backpack and shoes and an american flag in the backgroundWith all eyes on the opioid epidemic, the suicide crisis has been allowed to quietly loom without much notice. In 1999, suicide rates began to trend upward among all age groups. Nearly twenty years later, this trend has not only persisted but has accelerated. Since 2006, the national suicide rate has increased rapidly, as much as doubling for some age groups, even while the other leading causes of death remained steady if not declined. As a result, suicide is now the second leading cause of death—what some might refer to as “preventable death”—among young people and adults 15 to 34, and the third leading cause of death among adults 35 to 44.

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Honoring Unique Identities in JDTCs

diverse group of hands put togetherAt almost every decision point in the US justice system, disparities of gender, race, and ethnicity can be observed. Even in the juvenile justice system, which is meant to be rehabilitative, black youth are locked up at almost five times the rate of white youth for the same crimes. It is also estimated that as many as 39% of incarcerated girls may identify as LGBTQ. Upstream in the justice decision-making process, black youth are far more likely to be arrested and charged compared with white youth, and white youth are more likely to be offered diversion (an intervention or alternative to incarceration) programs. Sadly, Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts (JDTCs) are no different, a 2016 study found that minority youth are underrepresented in JDTCs, and even if they are offered the opportunity to participate, minority youth have a lower rate of graduating JDTCs than white youth.

Of all the interventions in juvenile justice, JDTCs, with their explicit dedication to individualized case planning, engaging the participant’s family and community, and individualization of programming and responses to behavior, should, in theory, be equipped to support all youth in their access to, and graduation from, their programs. But, despite the incredible potential in the JDTC model, and the deeply committed and caring staff who work in JDTCs nationally, something isn’t quite working for all the young people they serve.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I would like to offer one suggestion. We must avoid falling into the trap of treating everyone equally, rather we must ensure we are treating everyone equitably. Equitable treatment means we must acknowledge differences in experience and culture and incorporate those differences into the case plans we develop for our young people.

Our nation has a history of mistreating and subjugating people based on race, gender, sexual identity, indigeneity, and a myriad of other identities, and people get understandably nervous when we start talking about acknowledging and giving the space for racial and gender differences. But in the context of a young person seeking recovery, this may not just mean recovering themselves, but also recovering and grounding themselves back in their identity within their community, ancestors, family, or tradition. As we recognize Global Diversity Awareness Month this October, with its explicit call to recognize and honor diversity and cultural differences, it seems timely to reflect on the services JDTCs provide, and how we can ensure cultural traditions and diverse racial experiences are honored in our programs.

Despite our commitment to honoring the individual experience, JDTCs may not offer therapy targeted at addressing generational trauma, or the historical impact of racism on people of color, despite research showing that these traumas manifest themselves in both physical and emotional ways. This is not to say that all black children experience, or internalize, racism in the same ways, but a holistic approach to recovery must include the opportunity to acknowledge, process, and begin healing from scars inflicted as a result of one’s race. Normal Cognitive Behavioral Therapies do not focus on this, but there are programs, such as the HEAT program, that do. HEAT was designed by black men, for black men, to help them rediscover themselves through spirituality, community, and family. This program goes beyond the idea that to engage in therapy it helps young black men to have someone who looks like them, and instead demands that the therapist and the curriculum help them process all their experiences, including those directly related to race, in order to begin to recover.

Not every JDTC can access the HEAT Program, but all JDTCs can think critically about the populations they have; or, based on demographics in their systems, the populations they should be targeting, and what needs or programming might aid the recovery of those populations. I was in a JDTC a while back that had an influx of refugees, and aside from the standard issues with finding translators and interpreters, the team had made very few adjustments to their program to help youth and families cope with the trauma of fleeing home, seeking asylum, or adjusting to life in the US. Skilled therapists would be able to help these young people process some of the trauma, but they should also consider what community or spiritual practices the family holds dear that would aid them in their healing process. JDTCs should consider how they might be a partner with the community to facilitate this healing (without being appropriative).

Given our history, and contemporary fears around racism and sexism, it is understandable that JDTC staff become nervous when discussing race or gender-based interventions for young people. However, it is important to understand that the way to help young people recover is to allow them to connect with all areas of their identity, and that requires us as staff to acknowledge them, honor them, and provide services based upon their unique needs, including needs related to race and/or gender.

By recognizing these different identities and experiences in our case plans, JDTCs may finally be able to live up to their true, individualized, potential.

 

Want to know more about addressing racial and ethnic disparities (RED) in your JDTC? Check out the NDCRC’s new RED Program Assessment Tool, or email jdtc@american.edu to learn more about our RED focused TTA.

Mental Illness Awareness Week Brings Attention to the Need for Treatment Courts

Why Care? Mental Illness Awareness Week

The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) Mental Illness Awareness Week runs from October 6th through the 12th. This topic has not only started to get more attention in the last few months but remains a critical issue in need of effective solutions. For those incarcerated or involved in the criminal justice system, assistance for mental illness is often overlooked and it’s even more true for individuals experiencing suicidal ideation.

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