Community-based organizations (CBOs) can provide a link between law enforcement and vulnerable populations that may otherwise be inaccessible because of a fear of law enforcement and government authorities. CBOs are private or public agencies that engage with the local community on a much more direct level to address the social and economic needs of individuals and groups, typically in a defined geographic area. Many of these CBOs were also formed to help bridge the gap between services and specific communities that may feel they are facing additional barriers to receiving services, whether based on income level, ethnic group, religion, language barrier, age, disabilities, health issues, gender identity and sexual orientation, or other factors.
Examples of CBOs
• Churches, mosques, temples
• Youth development groups
• Services for elderly individuals
• Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ)-specific agencies
• Culture- and ethnicity-based organizations
• Domestic violence and sexual assault agencies
• Immigrant and day labor groups
Within task forces, there is often the idea that collaboration between governmental agencies and one or two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or nonprofit groups is sufficient. However, some NGOs or nonprofits that are engaged and interested in anti-trafficking work may not have the same community ties that the CBOs do. These ties enable the CBO to be instrumental in victim identification and referrals to the task force. CBOs also have more knowledge about appropriate messaging and strategies for working with vulnerable populations that have suffered from negative experiences in the past.
Many task forces neglect to involve CBOs in their initial efforts or find it difficult to convince CBOs to participate or engage with the task force. When CBOs are invested partners with, or members of, a task force, this can have a positive effect on the task force reaching vulnerable communities, establishing appropriate protocols, and accessing valuable resources for long-term survivor support. Some CBOs may play a more interactive role in supporting survivors and may be key partners in task forces while others can provide cultural expertise but not necessarily participate in task force meetings.
Task forces can use the following tips to establish partnerships with CBOs:
1. Prioritize engagement with CBOs. A task force should prioritize which CBOs it needs to engage based on the task force’s assessment of the nature of human trafficking in the community. They need to become knowledgeable about the CBO’s constituency, including demographics, culture, economic conditions, social networks, political and power structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with efforts by other outside groups to engage the CBO in various programs.
2. Build trust by considering the CBO’s perception of the task force and individual task force members, particularly law enforcement agents. Understanding these perceptions will help the task force identify potential barriers to collaboration as well as strengths that it can build on in cultivating partnerships. For example, CBOs that work with migrant laborers may be hesitant to work with law enforcement for fear that the connection may put their community in danger of deportation. The task force should use informal meetings and targeted training to correct misperceptions and develop a relationship with the CBO before its integrated within the task force.
3. Understand the incentives for the CBO to participate in task force efforts. Simply stating that human trafficking is a heinous crime does not guarantee CBO participation. It is important to communicate why CBO participation in the task force is worthwhile to the CBO, even if it seems obvious. The CBO’s mission may prioritize issues such as jobs, immigration reform, public safety threats, and reduction of incarceration. The task force should identify and communicate to the CBO how participation in the task force will support the CBO’s mission, thus engaging the CBO and its constituents.
4. Assess the CBO’s understanding of the impact of human trafficking on its constituents. Many CBOs may not recognize or want to acknowledge that human trafficking is a topic of concern for their constituents. A good starting point is to learn about the CBO’s work on related issues (such as domestic violence, child abuse, prostitution, immigration, or workers’ rights). Examing how these issues are dealt with in the community will help the task force in building engagement around human trafficking.
5. Establish parameters that clearly outline the role of the CBO in the task force. Negotiations between the CBO and task force leadership should define the role of the CBO. The task force should be clear if it is looking to involve the CBO because it seeks data, information, advice, and feedback on task force activities or wants to leverage the CBO for additional resources for survivors or for collaboration on outreach activities. Many CBOs are underfunded and overextended. The task force should explain how collaboration with the task force will be “worthwhile” to the CBO’s activities, which will go a long way toward creating meaningful partnerships. Informal meetings and clear protocol proposals can also allay fears.
6. Invest in a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship between the CBO and the task force. Relationships with CBOs require a long-term investment. It may take years to build trust within a CBO and its community before they become interested in engaging more formally with the task force. The task force should plan for periodic training, meet-and-greets, mentorship with victim service organizations, and task force leadership participation in the CBO’s outreach activities. Translated pamphlets, single events, and one or two outreach events are not sufficient.
For additional information and tools, see the Resource page for Section 3.1, Task Force Membership & Management.