Interview/Screening Victims of Human Trafficking by Tanya Street
I often consult with people who are involved throughout the entire continuum of support for victims of trafficking, and I find that I spend the most time articulating the message of what their listening and exchange capacity looks like from a victim’s perspective. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you some insight on how to feel better about your interviewing and screening process.
Please these things keep in mind:
1. What is going on in the mind, body and soul of the victim?
Remember that we are complex individuals. I like to remind my clients that victims are not working with the same perception or reality of life that’s normal to them. When screening/interviewing, the expectation from the professional’s viewpoint will differ from someone who has just been part of a horrific experience. As the interviewer, it’s important to work hard to stay focused on every word the victim says, because no matter how random or irrelevant their words may seem, one day the dots will connect for you the listener. During your interview, give the victim feedback using their own language and repeat back to them what you heard them say. This helps them process, stay on track and know you are listening. If you notice you are losing them, take a break, regroup, and make sure they are comfortable. Be willing to stop or talk about something else, if necessary. Pushing them only makes things harder for the process later on. Remember the victim is used to being bullied, negotiated with, bribed, coerced, and so forth. Do your best to NOT display any of these tactics! If you begin to react to the pressure of getting statistics, funding, recognition or anything where you are gaining more for yourself or your organization, then know that you are EXPLOITING the victim once again. Pushing your agenda, no matter how noble it is, does not help the person you are trying to help. Your agenda could be the desire of being someone’s hero, but helping a victim recover always takes a village of trauma-informed/victim-centered support. This is not a task for one person alone. The more patient you are with the process, then the more likely the victim will come back to you and be more likely to build a trusting relationship with you.
2. Your personal/professional perception of trafficking
Victims of human trafficking DO care about what you already think of them. Media and our culture have sent mixed messages about those that are the most vulnerable among society. People say the mistreatment of individuals is wrong, but compared to our daily interactions, victims often experience something different. As a society, we have at our fingertips information about how people are being mistreated and yet find ourselves with people still being mistreated. Our culture can relay the message that not standing up for the vulnerable is acceptable. Think about some of the victim’s thoughts: “No one really cares about me”; “I’m not worth the time”; “I’m pathetic”; “Why would someone help me?”; “I don’t deserve it”; “Besides, I can’t even help myself”; “Look at how they look at me when they think I’m not paying attention”. Constantly, the language of the trafficker plagues the victim’s mind and becomes the life they know, and, sometimes, the actions of society affirm the message. Be sure YOUR words line up with your actions!
3. Your ability to be flexible?
Many times, people in general have a set expectation of how life should go, in spite of how many times life tries to teach us differently. One can easily take this need to be right or in control into the support space with clients. It’s very empowering to give a victim of trafficking the space to control, to move and be themselves without adverse consequences. Many of us work under the constraints of guidelines and paperwork monsters. That kind of pressure can flow into our interview with clients. Find ways to dispel that type of atmosphere. Look for ways to show flexibility in yourself and your work.
4. Have you yourself done any self-work?
It’s easy to tell someone they will heal or get better. However, if you don’t know what it takes to heal from difficult situations, please refrain from using too many words of encouragement and affirmation. It can come off as surface and inconsiderate. When you have walked through the process of self-awareness and development, you realize the work it takes to move towards wholeness and can speak more deeply in those areas with meaning and assurance. We all have experienced brokenness in some way and have opportunities to know what it’s like to be in need of something greater. Personally working through the humility of needing the support of others to help you leaves you with a greater sense of compassion that can be felt by people looking for help.
5. Your attention to detail
Be aware of how you are handling distractions in your interactions with your client. Notice if your client is looking at you when you speak. See if they have made any changes when transitioning to a different topic. Are you moving too slowly or speaking too fast? These are small details that you CAN control in your space. Make sure your cell phone is put away. If your phone is constantly going off, it can make the interview unsettling and change the atmosphere. Consider how many times you are walking away from the interview to do something else, because you are wearing many hats in your office. Are others in the office interrupting you during the interview? These are all distractions that can take away from what should be an effective time of interaction between you and the one you are supporting.
There’s much more I could say here, but focusing on these few changes can make a difference in your desire to give effective support to the victims you come into contact with in your agencies. People want to be respected, feel valued, given space to grow and make mistakes, and, of course, everyone wants to know what it is like to live a life free from control. Just remember, so do victims of human trafficking! Listen with your head and heart. I believe from that space, the decisions that follow will be rewarding.