Division 35 Addresses the Trafficking of Women

By Michelle Contreras
September 13, 2011

It is a crime that should have ended with the abolition of slavery but it continues to happen. We imagine that human trafficking is happening in the poor towns of developing countries with limited opportunities. And it is, but it is also happening in the United States of America. Women and children are being lured, enticed and kidnapped to be forced into prostitution and labor without pay in the U.S. The further away a trafficker can take a woman from her home town, the less options and opportunities for escape she has. Once she is brought to the U.S. and thousands of miles away from home, she can remain at the mercy of her trafficker(s) for several years, decades, and in the worst of cases, she will die at the hands of her trafficker.

In order to address this important issue, Division 35’s Task Force on Feminist Perspectives on the Trafficking of Women was charged with developing a documentary film on this issue. The task force members brought together a substantial amount of video footage documenting the work that several U.S. based woman psychologists are taking on to contribute to the prevention of this crime. The video shoots were taken during the American Psychological Association’s San Diego 2010 Convention. The footage will become a part of the documentary film that is scheduled for release during June 2011. The documentary will provide an overview of trafficking, the psychological consequences of trafficking, and speak to the issues that are specific to women and trafficking. The documentary will be available for free viewing for the general public on the APA’s Division 35 website. The task force, led by Michelle Contreras since August, 2010, is developing a discussion guide to use the film in educational and organizational settings for trainings. Additionally, the task force plans to produce a version with Spanish subtitles.

On January 29, 2011 Michelle Contreras imparted a one-hour presentation on the international trafficking of women to the U.S at the Division 35’s Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, WA. She discussed the specific ways in which women are more vulnerable to being trafficked due to the rampant gender disparities they suffer in their countries of origin and in the U.S. She also explained how race, ethnicity, poverty and other factors compound this risk. Michelle included video clips of young women travelling by land from Latin America to the U.S., which highlighted the high risk situations international victims are often fleeing from. She remarked on how this ultimately places them at greater risk for trafficking. She also presented a videotaped clip of clinical work with a survivor of human trafficking from Central America. In this example, Michelle highlighted the challenges of providing services to this population and the importance of culturally sensitive interventions.

The next step for the Task Force on Feminist Perspectives on the Trafficking of Women will include obtaining additional footage of survivor testimony and interviews with clinicians providing direct services to survivors. Bringing the voices of the survivors of this crime is a crucial piece to raising awareness about the prevalence of trafficking. People start to find it everywhere when they pay closer attention. For instance, in the Midwest two traffickers were arrested for trafficking young women and men from the Caribbean and Asia to work in local hotel chains. Michelle was part of the crisis team that provided services to this group of workers shortly after their rescue. The young women she interviewed could have been the cleaning staff of a hotel that anyone reading these words could have frequented. We need to realize that slavery has not ended in this country. The practices and tactics have changed but the underlying principles, including depriving people of their physical and psychological freedom, remain intact. Trafficking is a growing women’s issue that needs to be addressed and Division 35’s Task Force on Feminist Perspectives of the Trafficking of Women is a direct response to this need.

For more information on this issue, visit Project Reach, an organization that is always looking for clinicians all over the U.S. available to provide ongoing treatment for survivors.