Economic Empowerment for People Who Have Experienced Human Trafficking: A Guide for Anti-Trafficking Service Providers


Human trafficking is a crime inextricably tied to economic victimization. Economic instability is a common precursor to human trafficking exploitation. During a trafficking experience, economic instability may be made worse if individuals are prevented from keeping or controlling their earnings or finances or prevented applying for or maintaining a job in the mainstream workforce. As a result of their exploitation, individuals may develop a criminal record, further impacting their employment prospects. Thus, a key element to supporting individuals who have experienced human trafficking is supporting their economic empowerment.

Access to financial support and access to safe and sustainable employment are often cited as top needs among individuals seeking supportive services who have experienced human trafficking. Recent years have seen the emergence of a wide range of economic empowerment programs for people with lived experience of human trafficking.

Primary Research Questions

  • What are the economic needs of people who have experienced human trafficking?
  • What program models currently exist that provide economic empowerment services for people who have experienced human trafficking?
  • What type of economic empowerment programs or services do people with lived experience of human trafficking find useful?
  • What innovative practices are happening in the field, and what are lessons learned from adjacent populations that we can draw on?


Economic empowerment is often a critical need for people who have experienced human trafficking, from their moment of exit through their long-term recovery. An increasing number of anti-trafficking service providers are beginning to address this need, offering programs focused on financial literacy, job training, cash assistance, and more. However, there is little guidance for practitioners as they support the economic well-being of antitrafficking program participants.

This guide is intended to serve as a foundation for organizations considering starting, expanding, or refining programs addressing the economic empowerment of people with lived experience of human trafficking.

Key Findings and Highlights

Economic empowerment is the transformative process of moving away from exploitation and toward increased choice and opportunities to gain independence, stability, skills, and advancement in all areas related to one’s economic wellbeing. Further, economic empowerment is the result of financial stability, financial literacy, and professional development.

Based on themes that emerged in this research, we identified several guiding principles for the development and implementation of economic empowerment programs:

  1. All economic empowerment programming should center survivor voice and choice.
  2. All economic empowerment programming should incorporate the consideration of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  3. Economic disenfranchisement is rooted in deeper systemic inequalities that impact vulnerabilities to human trafficking, barriers to exiting, and barriers to recovery. It is difficult for services or programs to be sufficient if efforts are not also made to address these root causes.
  4. Meeting the needs of people with lived experience of human trafficking is best accomplished through strategic collaboration.
  5. People with lived experience of human trafficking need ongoing access to financial advocacy, education, and resources in alignment with their changing economic situation and personal and professional development.


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