Faith-based organization trains people to help end human trafficking
In 2021, the Set Free Movement trained over 6000 community members to aid in stopping human trafficking. The organization calls this approach community-based action. Some do preventative work and others work directly with victims of human trafficking. Its reach is worldwide, with teams across the U.S. and internationally.
Abby Fritzgerald is the assistant director of team care and development for Set Free. She started doing this work in Decatur, Illinois. She now works in the DeKalb area. She explains the faith-based component of the movement.
“So, we recognize the heart of who we are, is made in the image of God, we are His creation,” she said. “And that part of who we are is communicated in what we do.”
Fritzgerald said individuals who are wanting to live a life of recognition service to God also have an understanding that they must take care of the people around them. That includes those vulnerable to being trafficked.
Fritzgerald works with communities to form teams. She said the movement provides unique direction to each of these teams based on the community that they are in.
“So, each leader goes in, has to do research, has to ask questions, goes to different agencies,” she explained, “to get an understanding of what's happening.”
She said most of the people are being trained to focus on preventative work. Here, foster children are a high priority group because they have a greater risk of being trafficked.
Children in the welfare system represent 60% of child sex trafficking victims, according to estimates by The National Foster Youth Institute.
“They can easily fall through the cracks in our communities. So, they can become targets for exploitation, even as they're aging out of the foster care system,” she said. “A lot of times, they don't have the resources and support that they need.”
Fritzgerald said others in jeopardy are homeless youth. That group can at times overlap with those in foster care.
“The other vulnerabilities could be individuals that are coming out of the prison system and trying to get back on their feet and back into society,” she added.
Fritzgerald said when most people think about human trafficking, they think of sex trafficking. But, she said, there’s another form that is much more common: labor trafficking.
“And that could be domestic servitude, that could be agricultural work, that's happening. That's very prevalent in the US, where people aren't necessarily being paid properly,” she explained. “They're not given the, you know, breaks, like they should be. Their paperwork is taken from them, they're being threatened.”
She said sometimes it turns into a debt servitude where the worker owes money, and the trafficker tells them they need to work to pay off the debt.
Although Fritzgerald focuses more on the preventative aspect, she said there’s another facet to the problem. She said her eyes were opened to it when she started a counselling program at a community health clinic. She found herself face to face with individuals who didn’t even realize they were being trafficked.
She said, most times, these victims are taken advantage of by people they trust.
“I like to, like connect the dots between what's happening in a domestic violence relationship, and what's happening in a human trafficking relationship,” she said. “So, it's sort of that same twisted manipulation.”
She said getting them to recognize what was happening was the first step. Then – with help -- they could begin the sometimes long and difficult journey to freedom.
Fritzgerald said individuals interested in launching a team in their community, or in raising awareness of the problem, can learn how to do so by visiting setfreemovement.com.
- Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.