By Sr. Nkechi Lilian Iwuoha, PHJC
Researchers have studied the role of other professionals on human trafficking, including social workers. But limited literature addresses the spiritual care of trafficked clients who have been traumatized. However, evidence-based research supports chaplains’ efficacy with similar traumatized populations such as people who are sick, in a domestic violence situation, homeless, struggling with post stress traumatic disorder, or victims of a terrorist attack or disaster. These survivors may lack the tools to address emotional, spiritual, psychological and physical consequences that impact their lives. Their trauma affects their ability to function and heal. Spiritual health is about the connection with self (personal dimension), others (social dimension),and God (transcendental dimension). According to numerous studies, spiritual health leads to improved mental health and is positively related to physical health. Therefore, chaplains as professionals in spiritual care have a role in the spiritual health of victims of human trafficking (HT). Chaplains can be challenged to provide services to trafficked victims: as a presence, advocate for the role of chaplains in the rehabilitation of victims of HT, help in the identification of victims of HT, collaborate in a multidisciplinary approach with service providers and provide resources to the adult victim of HT.
Chaplains can improve victim’s self-love through the ministry of presence by creating a new story and meaning in the life of the victimized. The chaplain may help the survivor by assuming a listening presence and empathy that helps the victim gain control, sense of power, purpose, feel love and able to express love. This journey with survivors calls for compassion that invites them to embark on the restoration of their broken lives.
Broadley (2000) addressed Carl Rogers’ two concepts of presence to explain an effective client-centered therapy as an expression of presence. He describes the first encounter of openness and approachable disposition in the relationship between the therapist and the client and secondly the spiritual dimension of the presence of the therapist. In my opinion, this conception of presence can be explored by chaplains as an additional tool as they encounter victims of trafficking.
Many survivors of sexual and labor exploitation who seek assistance ask two fundamental questions: Why did God allow this evil to happen to me? And what does God think of me now? A fundamental responsibility of chaplains as spiritual caregivers is to help them navigate the answer to these questions and to walk with them in showing them love as the answer to their question.
Advocacy for the role of chaplains in treating victims of HT
As awareness of HT grows, chaplains should explore ways to work with the victims. There could be a development of outcomes assessment for pastoral care that chaplains could use to improve daily performance and development skills for intervention with HT victims. These skills can be adapted and tried in various institutions that require the services of chaplains. Advocacy may also include publishing literature, attending conference presentations on HT; and joining public awareness campaigns, coalitions and not-for-profit organizations to promote the chaplaincy profession in addressing the needs of victims and survivors. Chaplain association can assist in the development of protocols and procedures for both prevention of HT and strategies for aftercare services for victims.
Identification of victims of HT
Hospital chaplains in particular need to recognize the signs associated with trafficked patients. The understanding of who victims are and their needs may help chaplains to find creative ways of building effective collaborative strategies.
The follow-up strategy includes when to alert law enforcement officers. For instance, in a health care setting, chaplains establish a very short relationship span. When patients come to the emergency room and encounter a chaplain as an individual to be trusted, chaplains are expected to reach out to the patient who could be a victim in a discreet way. The chaplain may eventually provide the suspected victim with a phone number to contact a law enforcement officer. A well-trained chaplain needs to be observant and pay attention to the signs presented by the patient.
If a suspected victim is admitted, chaplains have more time to work. Because chaplains are trained to draw out the patient’s story and build trust over time through visits, they may create a comfortable atmosphere of openness. In this case, the chaplain can continue to visit the suspected victim until they can articulate what they want. However, the person has to want to talk. If a suspected pimp is the caregiver, chaplains need to find time to be one-on-one with the patient.
Multidisciplinary approach and collaboration
On identification of victim or suspect, chaplains should be non-judgmental. Before inviting the victim to a spiritual journey, the chaplain will need to observe the body language and interpersonal interaction. It is necessary that the chaplain document all observation and conversation for follow-up in case the victim returns. The chaplain can submit a report to case management requiring them to check a suspected victim of HT if there is any concern. Social workers in the United States are advocates for these people living on the margins of society; including working with victims of trafficking. Chaplains can explore ways to collaborate with social workers, who are empowered by law to assist victims.
The two sectors can work together in reporting to law enforcement, especially if survivors fear revenge by their captors. National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline number (1-888-373-7888) is a useful contact. If the client/patient is unable to write, he or she may be encouraged to memorize the number. However, when chaplains encounter an underage victim, they must follow a mandatory reporting guideline. The chaplain can contact Child Protective Services in the case of suspected child abuse and neglect.
Resources for the adult victim
Having identified the victim, it is imperative to provide the client with choices regarding available services, resources and reporting system. A plan for safety is crucial, which includes obtaining permission from adult victims before third parties (including other providers) can hear their story. The United Nations emphasizes the need for a multisectoral approach to addressing the problem of victims of trafficking, including the provision of professional interpreters if need be.
Researchers suggest that service providers in a healthcare setting, including chaplains, should locate local resources, such as the many U.S. metropolitan areas that have a human trafficking task force. They should research local or state requirements regarding mandatory reporting of human trafficking, including HIPAA requirements. The development of a safety plan by chaplain will include observing the confidentiality obligations when contacting the national or local service providers, and facilitating a report to law enforcement.
Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that harms people of all genders, cultures, races, socio-economic status, and ages. Victims may require many different services to help them heal from physical and mental torture. Some of the need for these victims include medical, social, spiritual, psychological, legal services, long-term needs such as education, development of life skills and coping skills. Thus, the rehabilitation strategy requires a multisectoral intervention including the profession of chaplain as spiritual care givers. Chaplains potentially have a valuable role in both advocating for measures to prevent HT and providing long-term sustainable spiritual care for the victim. Hence, continued advocacy for the role of the chaplain in addressing HT will require expanded awareness strategies to educate chaplains, other service providers, and the public at large.
Sr. Nkechi Lilian Iwuoha, PHJC, is doctoral student at Walden University in Minneapolis, studying criminal justice with specialization in law and public policy.