Shelter care is a large part of the current service delivery system for people who have experienced human trafficking and child sexual exploitation in the Greater Mekong Region (GMS). Though on the rise, services available for survivors in the community are still underdeveloped (Brunovskis & Surtees, 2012; Huguet & Ramangkura, 2007; Surtees, 2013). Ongoing reflection and assessment of the quality of shelter care is critical to ensuring that services are provided in an effective manner. The Butterfly Longitudinal Research (BLR) Project is a ten-year longitudinal research study led by Chab Dai that explores the re/integration of male and female survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The study aims to understand the perspectives and experiences of survivors as they journey through rebuilding their lives. The BLR project began in 2011 when many participants lived in shelter care. Multiple interviews have been conducted with survivors each year since 2011, following participants through their stay in shelter care and their transition into the community. Because of this, the BLR data set contains rich data about survivors’ perspectives on their experiences in shelter care through all stages of the process – from shelter intake through re/integration into the community.
The BLR project provides a unique opportunity to explore shelter care from the perspectives of survivors themselves. Although research about human trafficking and child sexual exploitation is growing, there is a lack of research from the perspectives of survivors (Curran, Naidoo, & Mchunu, 2017; Marcus, Horning, & Curtis, 2014; Richardson, Poudel, & Laurie, 2009; Russell, 2017). Much of the research on shelter care also presents the perspectives of social workers and/or foster parents; less research has revealed the views of clients themselves on their experiences in care (Leathers, 2003; Whiting & Lee, 2003). Understanding client perspectives is, however, crucial to the process of improving care. It affirms the dignity and rights of clients and ensures that clients’ knowledge can be used to strengthen services (Cordisco Tsai, Seballos-Llena, & Castellano-Datta, 2017; Foot, 2016; Mitchell, Kuczynski, Tubbs, & Ross, 2009; UNIAP, 2008).
This paper presents the perspectives of BLR participants on their experiences in shelter care, along with their recommendations for improving shelter care. Throughout the paper, we tried to remain as faithful as possible to the recommendations, views, and insights shared by survivors themselves. This paper does not present the viewpoint of Chab Dai as an organization. Rather, our goal is to share the voices of clients who have participated in the shelter care system. We tried to represent survivors’ perspectives and experiences as honestly and accurately as possible – because of our ethical responsibility and for the benefit of survivors and the counter-trafficking movement as a whole.
Over the years, agencies involved with Chab Dai’s collaborative work have shared a desire to learn about the strengths and weakness of their programs and to understand survivors’ long-term re/integration trajectories (Miles, Heng, Lim, Nhanh, & Sreang, 2014). We wrote this paper in direct response to this feedback from Chab Dai partner organizations. Providing shelter-based services for trafficked and exploited persons is incredibly complex. Service providers who do this work face a huge number of challenges. We hope that the study findings can be used in a positive way to uplift the voices of survivors and improve the shelter care experience for everyone – including both clients and shelter staff.
About the Butterfly Longitudinal Re/integration Research Project
Beginning in 2010, Chab Dai Coalition’s Butterfly Longitudinal Re/integration Research Project (BLR) has been following the lives of 128 child & adult survivors of human trafficking, exploitation, and/or abuse. Since its inception, this study has sought to find out, ‘what happens to survivors of human trafficking after they were assisted by an NGO and (in most cases) subsequently re/integrated back into the community? Is freedom truly free?’ Through the BLR team’s dedication to providing a safe platform for survivors to consistently share their voices and understandings, the team has been enlightened to the realities each individual of our cohort faces on a regular basis. It is our passion to, in turn, relay this to you— our ever-learning readers.
Thus, we recommend that stakeholders dive deeper through our many reports. To date, the BLR has produced ten reports, on: resilience, stigma, boys & men, and filial piety, to name a few. Please find all our previous and future publications at Chab Dai’s Siobhan Miles Memorial Library & Resource Centre, or on our website for more information, videos, news updates from Butterfly! www.chabdai.org/butterfly.
For the full report, please click here.