Empowering voices of survivors to combat human trafficking

Empowering voices of survivors to combat human trafficking

In Depth with Allies Against Slavery

Austin-based Allies Against Slavery (Allies) started in 2014, and began its partnership with the Dropbox Foundation in 2019. They help frontline partners identify victims of human trafficking to prevent their exploitation. We sat down with the Allies team to discuss Lighthouse, their powerful software that helps organizations identify trafficking victims, coordinate their care, and see trends. We also talked about why World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is so important and other efforts they’re working on to help survivors and victims across the state of Texas.

Q: Tell us about Allies Against Slavery, your mission, and the work you do.

A:  At Allies our mission is simple—to protect freedom and dignity. We aim to achieve this goal through harnessing the power of technology, data, and partnerships to combat human trafficking.

Accurate identification can have life or death consequences for victims, so we created our own software called Lighthouse, a first of its kind technology that helps identify victims of human trafficking, coordinate care, and understand trends. This combination provides powerful insights to answer critical questions about who is being exploited, where services are distributed, and what gaps exist. Lighthouse is currently used by over 1,000 individuals representing over 100 organizations throughout Texas. We’re actively expanding this user base so we can identify more victims and connect them to care. We believe better tools and data can save lives, and we’ll continue to expand the data pool and reach of Lighthouse.

In addition to technology and data, we also rely on partnerships because modern slavery is a multi-faceted problem that is too complex for one organization to tackle alone. We enable partners like the Texas Governor’s Office, child advocacy centers, and rape crisis centers throughout Texas, as well as many other direct care service providers and lawmakers to collaborate and cultivate greater understanding about trafficking. We believe that collaboration leads to deeper understanding and thus better care for victims and new insights to disrupt systemic exploitation.

Q: The United Nations recognizes World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30—why is this significant?  

A: World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is a global day of awareness aimed at building understanding about human trafficking and efforts to combat it. This year, the campaign is specifically focused on survivors’ stories and voices, highlighting both the importance of listening to and learning from them.

As the UN reports:

“ Many victims of human trafficking have experienced ignorance or misunderstanding in their attempts to get help. They have had traumatic post-rescue experiences during identification interviews and legal proceedings. Some have faced revictimization and punishment for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers. Others have been subjected to stigmatization or received inadequate support.”  

This sad reality is the impetus behind Lighthouse and perfectly highlights the problem we are working to solve—using data to prevent front-line service providers from missing a victim of exploitation and helping to correct misunderstandings of what trafficking looks like.

This year’s theme is especially relevant to what we do at Allies because we believe survivors are a critical piece to Lighthouse, as they help guide victims and empower their journey to survival. It’s also why we partner with the development firm, AnnieCannons, that helps survivors of human trafficking start building a career in the field of technology.

Q: This past year has certainly brought a lot of challenges. Has it brought any opportunities?

A:  Definitely! The increase in remote work positioned Lighthouse as even more valuable to the field. The collaborative powers within Lighthouse enabled us to help case management teams, who we partner with, to coordinate care for victims through adjusting their operating and reporting procedures to ensure that client care remained as intact as possible.  

The non-profit sector is, at times, resistant to new technologies and tools due to their very noble goal of protecting client data. However, the realities of COVID-19 pushed the conversation forward and helped us empower our peers to increase their comfort level with cloud-based solutions, like Lighthouse.

Q: How has the Dropbox Foundation partnership helped your organization?

A: The Dropbox Foundation’s partnership over the last three years has been truly catalytic for our team. Dropbox was one of the first to really understand and support our vision with Lighthouse. From the capital investment, to working with Dropbox teams on projects like developing a secure file sharing feature, and helping us launch Lighthouse, it's impossible to put into words what Dropbox’s support has meant for our team. Dropboxers are forever allies in our hearts!

Q: What can people do to help?

A: First things first—get educated. There are so many misconceptions about what trafficking looks like, who it happens to, and who is at risk. A great place to start is the Polaris Project’s myths page with a lot of common misconceptions about trafficking. Global Slavery Index is also a great resource for understanding the breadth and depth of this crime globally.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions—you can even reach out to the team at Allies and we would be more than happy to talk with you.

Lastly, find a way to give to the cause. Whether that’s a donation of your time, talents, or some combination of the two, this work needs you! Your contribution helps to ensure that someone has the chance to walk free.  

Q: What’s giving you hope these days?

A: Our team had the privilege of doing some advocacy work during the 87th Texas legislative session. It was so inspiring to see advocates and survivors from across the state of Texas come together and pool our resources and knowledge, for the greater good of more effective policies. It gave us hope that there will come a day, even if not in our lifetime, when traffickers will not be able to exploit the vulnerable and survivors will have access to all they need to heal. If you’re interested in reading more about our work during the legislative session, check out our recent blog post.

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