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United Way Blog

The Role Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plays in Combatting Human Trafficking

A movement without experts cannot accomplish meaningful change. The movement to combat human trafficking has historically excluded the expertise of survivors and been dominated by people without lived experience of human trafficking.  Elevating the voices of survivor experts and creating more space for diverse voices will allow for more significant and lasting impact in the movement. 

Just as introducing and sustaining DEI*-centered leadership is necessary in other fields, it is incredibly important in the anti-trafficking movement. United Way’s Center to Combat Human Trafficking recognizes the need to elevate this effort. We are taking the necessary steps to foster and facilitate an increased diversity of voices in the movement by integrating DEI into all our programs and initiatives.  


The consequences of ignoring the populations who most frequently experience human trafficking further contribute to the discrimination of these people on all levels. People belonging to marginalized identities often do not have a voice in the strategy and planning that is made to ensure their safety. Black people made up 40% of victims and Latinx people made up 24% of victims in a review of trafficking statistics. Indigenous peoples, people of color, immigrants and LGBTQ+ identities are more likely to experience the risks that make people vulnerable to human trafficking. Listening to these voices allows the anti-trafficking movement to make better informed and more impactful decisions. 

By elevating survivor leaders and listening to the needs of experts and community representatives, more effective work is accomplished. At the Center, we acknowledge the need to transform leadership in the anti-trafficking field and are committed to ensuring survivors and people from other underrepresented communities have a proper voice in the movement.  

Our Rising United Leadership Program, for example, increases survivor leadership in the anti-human trafficking movement by creating a professional development pathway for survivors while also advancing public awareness of the issue.  Through this innovative program with Rising Worldwide, survivor leaders teach the Center’s Live Learning Sessions curriculum to local United Ways and their partners. The “Rising Experts” involved also receive professional development training, mentorship, and economic support, among other benefits. 


Lack of diversity in any space puts underrepresented voices in danger. When there are only a few voices to represent large groups of people, valuable information is lost. A few people from a sector cannot share the thoughts and ideas of everyone because they are all different.  

The Center is committed to listening to and elevating a diversity of survivor voices through all of our work.  One example of this is our partnership with Polaris, through which we are supporting the first-ever U.S. National Survivor Study. Importantly, this project is a study with survivors not of survivors. The study will document the effects of human trafficking from survivors’ perspectives and uplift their voices on how to best combat this injustice. It will also help the anti-trafficking movement better understand the demographics of survivors in the United States. 


Having representative people in leadership positions is empowering and gives necessary perspective. Addressing systemic biases by prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, allows us to begin to break down the barriers that prevent people from reaching leadership positions.  

Diversity, equity, and inclusion lead to transformational change and progress. Historically silenced populations have some of the most important input to contribute and make all the difference when working toward common goals. When goals are set by the people directly affected, the result is more meaningful. 

Practicing DEI-centered leadership fights systemic issues and changes the trajectory of the future.  At the Center to Combat human Trafficking, we hope to see the anti-trafficking movement transform into a more survivor-led, inclusive, and diverse space. 

* DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Diversity addresses differences amongst people that can include race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, cognitive styles, and more. Equity is the intentional inclusion of everyone in society. Equity is achieved when systemic, institutional, and historical barriers based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities are dismantled and no longer predict socioeconomic, education, and health outcomes. Inclusion means authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy-making in a way that shares power. 


Lindsay Durham is a Program Intern at the Center to Combat Human Trafficking.  She is a junior at Michigan State University studying marketing and minoring in Race and Ethnicity in the United States. Lindsay joined United Way in September 2021 and will be continuing her internship throughout Spring 2022 semester. 

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