Functional Literacy Applied to Human Trafficking

Most people think of literacy as the ability to read, write, and numeracy. But another type of literacy exists. Functional literacy is about developing and enhancing the skills that society needs to function. It is the application of practical know-how to survive and thrive. The ability to combine functional literacy with traditional literacy presents a powerful case for sustainable change.

Agriculture: Combination of Experience + Education

Consider agriculture. Many illiterate farmers in developing countries understand and respect the land they farm. Their local knowledge, which is passed down from generation to generation, is a critical success factor for successful crops. However, they often fail to improve their skills because they are not educated in new farming practices and technologies that could enhance traditional methods. Studies have shown that the more educated farmers become, the higher their ability to adapt to change in the agricultural landscape. Furthermore, they were able to rapidly adopt technology and innovative solutions.

Human Trafficking

This powerful combination of functional literacy and traditional literacy doesn’t stop in agriculture. It can be applied to human trafficking victims. Every day, service care providers learn how they can better serve victims. However, their expertise often stops outside their organizations. During the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) conference in April 2022, a rich diversity of speakers shared their practical insights on improving victim care and protection. The challenge is how to take functional literacy and create a new care system model. It will take multi-level collaboration, technology, secure data sharing, need assessment standardisation, and a trust network between care chain partners. The result could be an overarching system that matches specific victim needs to specific care providers.

Share the Functional Literacy

In OSCE breakout sessions on gender-sensitive approaches to victim care, panelists discussed their real-world observations in how gender stereotypes and biased environments can conflict with care services. A key question emerged – how to develop gender-sensitive protection strategies? Miroslav Jovanovic,Centre for Protection of THB Victims, Serbia, outlined a customized approach. Comprehend the type of exploitation (and its consequences) match the victims’ needs to necessary services.

But an issue can arise that not all service providers can offer all necessary services. Nurzhan Tulegabylova, Director of the Public Fund “El Agartuu” NGO in Kyrgyz Republic, acknowledged that not all care organizations are capable of working with different types of victims. She urged the audience to define approaches based on gender considerations such age, social class, and culture and become the bridge to recovery through proper victim assessment and protective services.

During her presentation, Dina Dominitz, the National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and Head of the Anti-Trafficking unit at the Ministry of Justice of Israel, shared an innovative approach. The culmination of the practical experience of the care providers (functional literacy) combined with education was to switch from a “One-size fits all” framework into a “One-Stop Shop” model of holistic and flexible services based on victim needs.

Care providers will continue to accumulate functional literacy, but we cannot forget to add victims’ voices as part of the  solution. In 2020, Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman, was appointed by the UN Attorney General to the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Contemporary Forms of Slavery and Trafficking and as the Special Rapporteur on the Labour and Sexual Exploitation of Children, Especially Boys. His comments at the OSCE conference reminded us of the “power of survivors’ viewpoints in setting up care systems with holistic and synergistic assistance from all society for the long-term.”

Build the Future

These examples show a growing realistic awareness of victims needs in the care lifecycle that can act as a functional literacy to form the foundation for a new care system. Imagine a world where a national chain of care team providers can seamlessly interact with each other to ensure that trafficking victims receive appropriate and timely services for recovery.

This won’t happen automatically. It means defining and connecting the entire chain of care providers and capabilities at every level: local, regional, national, and perhaps eventually, international. It is about using technology in a new way to generate collaborative care data environments with resources and capabilities who can securely exchange and share and respond to client data based on need assessments. With the incredible stride forward with machine-learning for patient care in the healthcare sector, surely this is a viable future for human trafficking victims.