Survivor Empowerment Ideas

April 28, 2016 Mariah Long Opinion 

We use the word empowerment as one of the six forms of abolition. Empowerment is the phase where survivors are able to get jobs and support themselves. It is the final piece needed in the story of true freedom for a survivor. I say true freedom because, many times, lack of economic opportunity can result in re-trafficking or situations that keep survivors in conditions that left them vulnerable in the first place. For example, whenever people are struggling to feed their family, they are more likely to take any available job and fall prey to exploitative recruiters and traffickers. However, if you take someone out of that situation and provide them with a sustainable way to achieve financial security, they are less likely to be exploited. 

Since there are two main types of trafficking (forced labor and forced sex), there are two different approaches to this empowerment piece. With forced labor, the survivor likely already has a job skill that they were previously not being paid to do. There are programs that help survivors get loans to start their own businesses, or there are some organizations that connect survivors to employers with fair wage and working conditions. Survivors of forced labor need to find a way to be paid properly for the skills they have.

Survivors of sex trafficking are a bit different. The trauma that comes with sexual violence is not something to take lightly, which can cause major setbacks when it comes to learning a job skill. This obstacle is especially true for survivors that were trafficked at a young age and have known nothing else. 

The fact remains that these survivors need a way of supporting themselves, and fortunately, many organizations have come up with their own unique ways to provide job skills. Listed below are some examples from a variety of industries.

Bra Salesperson

Free the Girls is offering job opportunities to survivors by providing donated, second-hand bras that can be sold in local markets. Learn more about their model.


Sunitha Krishnan founded the group Prajwala that helps rescue women out of brothels in Hyderabad, India. She takes a unique approach and trains survivors in skills that are in demand such as construction, welding, carpentry and masonry; furthermore, survivors have the option to be cab drivers or security guards. Watch her TED Talk on her approach.

Bicycle Repair

TIP Hero Esme Kisting from Namibia founded The King’s Daughters Organizationin 2006. They offered services to survivors but knew they needed long-term job skills training. So, they opened a bicycle repair shop.

Culinary Arts

Hagar International is committed to helping their survivors heal in the fullest sense. They partner with a number of social enterprises that train their survivors and give them employment. Joma Bakery Café is located in Vietnam, and Hagar Catering is located in Cambodia.

Freedom A La Carte is a catering company located in the United States and offers the same skills training to survivors.


Freeset operates out of one of the largest red light districts in India. They offer the women there jobs sewing t-shirts and bags as a way to make a living. The aftercare and healing aspect of their mission happens while the women are working.


Made by Survivors has trained some of their survivors in metalsmith and goldsmith work. By giving this training, survivors learn a craft and skillset that open up job opportunities.


While visiting the A21 Campaign in Greece, we discussed all the social enterprises they have started for their job-seeking survivors. One was a thrift store! The survivors work in the store checking out customers, adding new inventory and keeping it clean. This opportunity was for those that wanted a more public-facing job! 

Topics: Empowerment

About the Author

Mariah Long

Mariah was previously the Program Manager of End Slavery Now. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati's DAAP program with a degree in Digital Design. 

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