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Learn How to Identify and Prevent Human Trafficking in the Deaf Community

January 30. 2024
Source: Gallaudet University

Many children and adults here in the United States have experienced human trafficking, and some of them might be ones you know, says Dr. Beth Bowman, G-’09. By the time she arrived at Gallaudet at age 23 to earn her Master of Social Work, she was a survivor of domestic sex trafficking and a mother of two young children. “People often come to social work because of the things they’ve seen. They want to be the change,” says Bowman, who is now an Assistant Professor at Gallaudet and the founder/CEO of Restoring Ivy Collective, an anti-trafficking organization.

Through her work, Bowman learned that there is virtually no research on how trafficking affects the Deaf community. That worried Bowman, who wants to boost awareness and ensure that everyone can get the support they need.

So she recently partnered with Gallaudet’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Child Resilience Center (DHHCRC) to create “Human Trafficking 101,” a 15-minute video in American Sign Language that explains what trafficking is and highlights several specific concerns for people who are deaf. To mark National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, there will be an event soon to present this groundbreaking video and hold a panel discussion with Dr. Bowman and staff from Gallaudet’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and DAWN. This article will be updated with event details.

National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, which has been recognized since 2010, is a chance to acknowledge the enormous toll trafficking takes on our society, and particularly on historically marginalized and underserved communities. DHHCRC, which is part of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, strives to make as many resources available as possible. Adding this video in ASL is a critical step forward for expanding access to this information.

One of Bowman’s main goals is to address common misconceptions about trafficking. “The world thinks it means being kidnapped,” she says. But in reality, trafficking is frequently perpetrated by family members and romantic partners. The video, which features a Certified Deaf Interpreter, lays out some of the possible scenarios that can unfold. A trafficker may promise to provide a caring relationship, or threaten to post degrading photos online. For youth under 18, any adult paying money, drugs, or basic needs for sex is considered a trafficker.

The video points to some particular issues for people in the Deaf community to consider. To keep someone isolated, an abuser may break accessibility devices, such as hearing aids, and they may accompany someone to appointments or prevent having an interpreter present. Living away from home at a residential school can lead to gaps in support that traffickers might exploit. And there can be barriers to communication for reporting abuse. But being deaf can also reduce certain risk factors. As the video notes, community members are often connected and look out for each other.

“My hope is to start a conversation about sex trafficking in the Deaf community,” says Bowman, who wants to bring the video and information to schools for the deaf, both to staff and students. The material — which was developed in conjunction with MasterWord as well as Social Work and Psychology faculty at Gallaudet — is appropriate for young people as early as middle school. “We were very careful about not being overly graphic,” she says.

When more people understand what trafficking is and can identify red flags, our world will become safer. “I hope this is the first training, not the last training,” Bowman says.

News source:

More information:

National Human Trafficking Prevention Month Toolkit [PDF]