HAVING suffered sexual abuse Crystal Witter is determined to help other Jamaican females who are victims of the crime of human trafficking.
Witter, 24, who hails from Manchester, recently launched a non-profit organisation which she has dubbed Shero Anti-Trafficking League, to address human trafficking through restoration, prevention and partnerships.
“I have gone through the reoccurring trauma [of sexual exploitation], especially when you know that the source of the exploitation was someone connected to money.
“When I talk to victims and hear their stories, the thing that really shocks me is the cycle that we feel so trapped in for money. It’s hard to break because there are not a lot of resources for victims who are disadvantaged, like helping them to find a safe space or housing facility after experiencing human trafficking,” Witter told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
“A lot of times I see myself in the women we see online or in the news missing, or dead, and I think it’s hard to advocate for your own self sometimes. I thought Shero Anti-Trafficking League would be a good vehicle for using our voices to help these women who may not be in a position to talk about it, but want change,” added Witter.
The former head girl of Manchester High School and recent valedictorian of St Mary’s University in southern Halifax, Nova Scotia, stressed that human trafficking is a widespread criminal activity, and declared that it cannot be tackled by one person or one organisation.
“It is a global issue and a very prevalent one in Jamaica. I am always shocked at the numbers of missing women. Where are they going? Why isn’t there more emphasis? It should not be a nine-day wonder emphasis or strategy but instead, there should be more organised and strategic emphasis,” Witter argued.
So far the Shero Anti-Trafficking League, which is also operated by four directors and receives support from organisations such as United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), has held a virtual town hall meeting aimed at discussing human sex trafficking and the link between missing and murdered women and children.
“We had a human sex trafficking survivor who came to share her experience and we thought it would bring more awareness. Human trafficking has so many other levels – there are so many red flags. One of the biggest red flags would be employment opportunities advertised, but there are also undercover opportunities that might drive a lot of young people to go into human trafficking. A lot of women are victims, and even men as well,” said Witter.
The Shero Anti-Trafficking League is planning another awareness event this year, and Witter said this will be designed to encourage Jamaicans to develop solutions for human trafficking.
“By having awareness and support in restoring and empowering survivors, we feel that we can really make a change. Prevention is also one of the key approaches we want to take in Jamaica as there are not a lot of resources out there — especially for the regular citizens — which can cause you to get in the loop of human trafficking,” said Witter.
Human trafficking is recognised as one of the most organised, heinous and lucrative crimes globally. It is described as the recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labour or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
In its 2021 Trafficking in Person Report, released late last week, the United States State Department kept Jamaica in a Tier 2 ranking which indicates that the Jamaican Government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
“The Government demonstrated overall increasing efforts, compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore, Jamaica remained on Tier 2,” said the State Department.
“These efforts included achieving a trafficking conviction that resulted in a significant prison term and restitution paid to the victim; adopting a national referral mechanism to standardise procedures for victim identification and referral to services across government entities and the public; and publishing its second annual report on trafficking in persons in Jamaica. However, the Government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.”
The report added that the Government of Jamaica identified and assisted fewer victims, and it significantly reduced funding for the protection services of trafficking victims.
“Although the [Jamaican] Government provided some training for law enforcement and criminal justice officials, these efforts were ad hoc and the Government did not provide consistent, standardised anti-trafficking training for officials,” said the report.
The report noted that Jamaican officials investigated 42 potential sex trafficking cases and one labour trafficking case, compared with 41 potential sex trafficking cases and two labour trafficking cases investigated in the previous reporting period.
“During the reporting period, the Government initiated three new sex trafficking prosecutions, a decrease from five sex trafficking prosecutions and two labour trafficking prosecutions initiated during the previous reporting period, and it continued 19 previously initiated prosecutions,” the report highlighted.
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