A Note on the Global Freedom Exchange 2016

By Diane Wilkinson, Global Freedom Exchange Participant 2016

When I first got the call to say that I had been nominated for the Global Freedom Exchange I was speechless. This incredible opportunity is a fellowship program for women working against human trafficking, run as a partnership between Vital Voices and Hilton Worldwide. 22 amazing women from 17 countries spend two weeks together in the USA sharing, teaching, learning, absorbing, experiencing and creating!

We visited 3 cities to experience various models of how this work can be done from different angles and within the local context.

Washington DC was the first destination on this program. The highlight for me was the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. They offer a range of fantastic services in partnership with many others including the FBI, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) and the Department of Justice. Their stats show a rising trend of potential child victims of trafficking in America being reported as missing or runaways.

In New York, the most impactful experience for me was an impromptu “Survivor Advocates 101” session led by two participants, Alisa and Margeaux, where they shared experience and insight regarding best practices of working with Survivor Advocates and setting up a National Survivor Network. I have no doubt that many future webinars and events will be springing forth from this conversation, as it is such an important and yet little considered area of counter-trafficking strategy.

The last stop on the program was Dallas, Texas.  The pinnacle of this leg of the journey was when we visited the Diversion Court for women who have been arrested multiple times on charges of drugs and prostitution. They are offered the opportunity to partake in a yearlong diversion program which is a chance to turn their lives around.

We were privileged to attend a live court session and then the graduation of one of these women. There wasn't a dry eye in the room as she shared her heart with us, and all I could think of were the hundreds of women across in South Africa who would grab an opportunity like this with both hands.

An overarching theme for most of the places we visited throughout the two weeks was ‘trauma informed, victim centred yet intelligence driven’. I was most impressed with the strong sense of coordination, communication and cooperation that seemed to flow through many of the places we visited. To achieve this kind of seamless teamwork is truly difficult and yet time and again we saw that it is indeed possible. The results are nothing short of beautiful.

And so the end of our whirlwind program arrived much too soon. We came together as strangers, and left as sisters. It is encouraging to know that, in what can be an incredibly lonely avenue of work, there is an entire network of feminine strength supporting each one of us. Thank you Vital Voices and Hilton Worldwide for connecting us and for reigniting the fire and passion in each of us!

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