Halting human trafficking

woman on balcony

Blum Center and EverFree gain funding for Freedom Lifemap

Nearly 50 million. That’s how many people are victims of human trafficking in the world today, according to human rights agencies.

What’s worse is that the exploitation of human beings for labor and sex acts through force, fraud or coercion is on the rise.

“While human trafficking is unambiguously immoral and universally illegal, the crime continues to proliferate at alarming rates,” note researchers from UCI’s Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation and EverFree, a nonprofit organization on a mission to free communities from human trafficking. “In just the last five years, human trafficking has increased by 22 percent globally.” 

In an effort to combat human trafficking, Kelsey Morgan, Ph.D. candidate in social ecology and co-founder of EverFree, and Richard Matthew, director of the Blum Center, teamed up with a plan they call Freedom Lifemap. The project offers survivors of human trafficking a tool to identify their needs and priorities in their journey to freedom, self-diagnose their well-being and create their own solutions and action plans to reach their goals. 

The Blum Center received a $750,000 gift from the Samueli Foundation to fund the project. In addition, EverFree received £672,703 from the Modern Slavery Innovation Fund for the project. 

Freedom Lifemap is used to better understand the complex needs of survivors and to develop more effective anti-trafficking solutions in the sector, according to Matthew and Morgan.

“The Freedom Lifemap is a victim-centered, strengths-based approach that helps people identify areas in which they are doing well and areas in which they face challenges, develop a plan of action and track their own progress,” Matthew says. “It is empowering for people to think of and catalog their strengths and then to focus on addressing their particular vulnerabilities and needs. And, as more individuals complete the assessment, we are able to analyze a growing database for trends, patterns and anomalies that can guide policy and other decisions.”  

Adds Morgan: “Freedom is not attained the moment a survivor exits exploitation or is rescued from human trafficking. It is a long process of healing to regain stability. EverFree and the Blum Center, in collaboration with a cohort of global survivors, developed the Freedom Lifemap to define and assess dimensions of freedom and well-being over time.”

Upon admission into one of EverFree’s rehabilitation centers or partner sites, survivors use the Freedom Lifemap technology platform to assess their strengths and vulnerabilities across six dimensions of well-being: 

  1. Health and Sustenance
  2. Freedom, Rights, and Safety
  3. Housing, Infrastructure, and Access
  4. Finance, Education, and Employment
  5. Community Connection
  6. Mental and Emotional Health

The platform then creates a “life map” of their self-assessment, prompts survivors to identify their greatest needs and priorities, and provides them with an individualized life map to guide their recovery journey. The data then is shared with program staff and case managers, ensuring survivors receive the tailored support they require to enhance the effectiveness of rehabilitation efforts.

The Freedom Lifemap is being piloted with eight organizations — one in the U.S, one each in Bolivia, Cambodia, Kenya, Mexico and the Philippines and two in Uganda. Together, they are helping to refine the project for scale to other anti-trafficking organizations, Matthew and Morgan say.

Data from the partners will be mapped by Blum Center Postdoctoral Fellows Angela Robinson and Maureen Purcell, and used across the anti-trafficking sector to identify trends in key vulnerability factors to influence prevention programming; better understand the impacts of human trafficking and pathways to recovery; develop stronger interventions; and inform policy. 

The goal is to administer a million Freedom Lifemap assessments globally. The assessments could lead to:

  • more effective strategies to end human trafficking,
  • empowered communities to prevent trafficking and ensure survivors stay free and
  • more survivors receiving the services they need to achieve lasting freedom.

Mimi Ko Cruz