More Than Just An “Ounce” of Prevention

Prevention better than Cure

If “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” why do we spend so many pounds and dollars and hours of effort on rescue and rehabilitation while prevention remains only a small part of the global anti-trafficking response?

Without addressing the root causes of trafficking and sexual exploitation (prevention) we can never fully stop the problem.

Yes, we can rescue individual victims, but unless we prevent the supply and demand there will always be countless other victims to take their place.

Yes, we can bring healing to survivors, but how much better for the person and more effective in terms of programming to prevent the trauma and damage from happening at all.

We all recognize the need for prevention, but we don’t always know where to begin. Here are three starting principles for best practice in prevention:

  • Prevention must be focused. Our efforts must be directed at the actual root causes that lead to trafficking in a specific context. This means using tools like problem trees and social mapping to understand the most compelling push and pull factors in a given community. We must then use that information to design prevention strategies that directly address those vulnerabilities at the individual, family, community and societal levels on both the supply side and the demand side.
  • Prevention must be effective. While it is harder to measure how many people were prevented than how many people were rescued, we must ensure that our prevention efforts have measurable objectives and that we are continually monitoring effectiveness and making adjustments as needed. We must also ensure that measures taken in the name of prevention do not have unintended negative consequences, e.g. putting at-risk children in institutional care (a short-term fix that can have long-term adverse consequences including increased vulnerability) instead of building safer and more successful families and communities (a longer-term fix that can lead to lasting positive change).
  • Prevention must be rights-based. A senior government official in a major source country said “We are preventing trafficking by making sure that no females under 25 are allowed to travel alone.” Never mind that this policy only makes people more vulnerable to traffickers, it also undermines their fundamental rights. By contrast, we must ensure that our prevention strategies help protect people without compromising their rights. As well, we must not only focus on protecting the rights holders (potential victims), we must also hold accountable the duty bearers (those in families, communities, governments, etc. who are responsible for protecting their rights). In plain English, prevention projects must not just focus on protecting the vulnerable, they must also stop people in power from causing or allowing harm.

What principles and practices have worked best for you in the area of prevention?

What challenges have you faced?

How have you been able to convince donors and other supporters of the importance of prevention?

What resources have most been helpful for you as you design and implement a prevention response?

I look forward to hearing your ideas for effective prevention.

In the meantime, check out the list of prevention tools and resources that I hope will help empower your own prevention response.


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