Posted on

30 June 2022

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ASEAN-ACT grant partner, Verite Southeast Asia incorporates the voices and experiences of LGBTQIAN+ victims of trafficking in their research into in-country recruitment of migrant workers

There is no universal face of a victim of trafficking. People who are trafficked can come from all walks of life. However, there are certain factors that make individuals and groups more vulnerable to being trafficked. Along with socioeconomic status, ethnicity and physical ability, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020 notes sexual orientation as one of the higher vulnerabilities to trafficking in many parts of the world.[1]

Gender is widely understood as a key dimension of vulnerability, with research demonstrating women and girls as being more vulnerable to sex trafficking, and men and boys more vulnerable to labour trafficking. However, for people who are transgender and/or gender non-conforming, there is little research to understand their unique experiences of trafficking and vulnerability to trafficking.[2]

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Non-binary (LGBTQIAN+) people are statistically more likely to experience violence of all forms, according to a 2021 Australian-United Nations Joint statement on Violence Against Transgender Women.[3]

Verité Southeast Asia (VSEA), through its partnership with the ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking Program (ASEAN-ACT) is conducting research to understand the risks of trafficking for forced labour among foreign migrant workers in Thailand, many of whom lost their jobs and found themselves stuck in-country during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

As part of this research, the VSEA team are conducting interviews with migrant workers, including – where possible – people who identify as LGBTQIAN+ to better understand their unique experiences and potential vulnerabilities to being trafficked.  

Vulnerability 

Chutchaya “Bloom” Siriwattakanon (pronouns: they, them, theirs), a programme coordinator and non-binary member of VSEA’s project team working on the ASEAN-ACT-funded project, and advocate for LGBTQIAN+ rights in Thailand explained: 

“LGBTQIAN+ community members are vulnerable to trafficking as they are at risk of being homeless (especially for young people) due to experiencing queerphobic or transphobic discrimination within their homes. They are likely to run away from home and be exposed to potential traffickers who might exploit them for forced labour or sex trafficking.” 

A World Bank study found that 60 per cent of transgender people in Thailand face discrimination when applying for a job, 26 per cent face barriers in accessing government services, 23 per cent in accessing education and training, 17 per cent in renting a property and 21 per cent in buying a property. Gay and lesbian respondents reported comparably high statistics, with 27 per cent of lesbian respondents reporting they experienced discrimination when trying to buy a house.[4]

Barriers to securing employment, education, housing, and accessing government services are common experiences that can result in poverty and increase an individual’s vulnerability to trafficking.  

LGBTQIAN+ people from ethnic minorities, lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or who have a disability are disproportionately more likely to remain in the poverty cycle. Similarly, they are more likely to experience violence in many forms.  

The 2020 UNODC TIP Report notes, “Recent studies show that LGBTQI+ children and young adults can be especially vulnerable to trafficking in persons for forced labour and sexual exploitation. First, their high vulnerability arises from their young age, as they are assumed to be easily manipulated and unable to protect themselves. Second, their LGBTQI+ identity increases their vulnerability, as they are often marginalized in society and ostracised by friends and relatives who may force them out of their home.”[5]

Reintegration 

For survivors of human trafficking, reintegration back into society either with the support of a victim shelter, or through other means, is a long and non-linear process. Many victims experience shame about their circumstances, post-traumatic stress disorder and social discrimination. 

Several civil society organisations and shelters that provide aftercare and assistance include financial support to victims and families, counselling services, housing provision, access to education opportunities, and access to healthcare. However, this support is not always inclusive of LGBTQIAN+ victims.  

Bloom explained that most shelters for victims of trafficking are not set-up to appropriately care for and accommodate transgender people, from design, to provision of services, and lack of awareness of staff.  

“LGBTQIAN+ survivors of human trafficking struggle to have access to support that is appropriate to their needs. For example, shelters are only separated by binary assigned sexes at birth and usually exclude transgender and nonbinary victims”  

Accessing appropriate and necessary healthcare is a significant challenge for migrant workers who are living in a host country, especially for LGBTQIAN+ individuals who require specific hormone treatments, or those who may live with HIV/AIDS.[6]

“Some shelters may not be able to provide healthcare support that are appropriate for transgender or nonbinary victims such a hormone therapy or people who live with HIV for their antritrovel (ART) drugs,” they shared. 

LGBTQIAN+ victims of trafficking are more likely to face discrimination and suffer further abuse when seeking support services. Bloom explained, “LGTBQIAN+ victims in a shelter may be subject to physical violence or sexual assault from staff or fellow victims, particularly transwomen who are more visible by nature of their physical appearance. Similarly, LGBTQIAN+ victims are vulnerable to harassment from police officers, and judges may not treat their cases as seriously because of stigma.” 

Providing training to shelter staff is an important step in reducing stigma and creating safe shelter environments for victims and their families. Thailand’s Happy Shelter model – implemented in 2020 through the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security – ensures all staff receive appropriate awareness and sensitivity training to support LGBTQIAN+ victims. A number of shelters also have dedicated accommodation areas for LGBTQIAN+ victims.

Gaps in our knowledge  

There is a significant lack of data and research that highlights the experiences and realities faced by LGBTQIAN+ people in all spheres of life. Trafficking in persons is no exception and little is known about the specific vulnerabilities of LGBTIAN+ communities and their experiences of seeking justice and support. Stigmatisation of LGBTQIAN+ populations can prevent individuals from freely and outwardly expressing their gender identity and sexual orientation. LGBTQIAN+ migrant workers who witness the exploitation and abuse of those around them are shown to be less likely to reveal their identities.[7] This is one of the many reasons data on these populations does not accurately represent the numbers of those at risk.  

VSEA is working to incorporate the perspectives of foreign workers in Thailand from diverse backgrounds to better understand the many ways in which people, including LGBTQIAN+ communities, can be vulnerable to trafficking. VSEA works with governments, multinational companies, suppliers, unions, NGOs, and labour advocates on mitigating trafficking risks for workers across several industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries, and energy.  

The partnership between VSEA and ASEAN-ACT contributes to the establishment of an evidence base on recruitment-linked risks of forced labour and trafficking faced by migrant workers in Thailand, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the research is completed, VSEA will develop an open-source resource kit to help private sector and other key actors detect and address forced labour and TIP risk indicators, and the formulation of policy recommendations.  

The Australian Government, through ASEAN-ACT, works with ASEAN member states to adopt victim-centred approaches to combatting human trafficking in all forms. To do this, it is critical to understand the unique experiences of all victims, and the different factors that make people vulnerable to trafficking.  

Each June, LGBTQIAN+ communities celebrate pride month, and while this is a celebratory time to recognise sexual and gender-diverse people, it is also a time to listen and learn from the unique lived experiences of LGBTQIAN+ people.  

Bloom noted, “this pride month.... we need to be aware of LGBTQIAN+ victims of trafficking — to support, protect and empower them.” 

Resources: 

International Office for Migration, Glossary of Terms: https://www.iom.int/sites/g/files/tmzbdl486/files/documents/IOM-SOGIESC-Glossary-of-Terms.pdf 


[1] United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Global Trafficking in Persons Report (2020). Accessed via: https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/tip/2021/GLOTiP_2020_15jan_web.pdf

[2] International Office for Migration, LGBTQI+ Victims of Human Trafficking (2019). Accessed via: https://rosanjose.iom.int/en/blogs/lgbtqi-victims-human-trafficking

[3] Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 47th Session of the Human Rights Council, (2021). Accessed via: https://www.dfat.gov.au/international-relations/themes/human-rights/hrc-statements/47th-session-human-rights-council/joint-statement-violence-against-transgender-women-during-interactive-dialogue-independent-gender-identity-sogi-mandate-28-june-2021

[4] World Bank, Economic Inclusion of LGBTI Groups in Thailand (2018). Accessed via: https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/269041521819512465/pdf/124554-WP-PUBLIC-LGBTI-Report2018-full-report-English-23March.pdf

[5] United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Global Trafficking in Persons Report (2020). Accessed via: https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/tip/2021/GLOTiP_2020_15jan_web.pdf

[6]Better Engagement Between Asia and Southeast Asia, Part 3: Spotlight on Myanmar LGBT Migrant Workers (2022). Accessed via: https://bebesea.org/2022/03/spotlight-on-myanmar-lgbt-migrant-workers-in-thailand-malaysia-and-singapore-health-challenges-and-call-for-better-health-protection/

[7] Better Engagement Between Asia and Southeast Asia, Part 1: Spotlight on Myanmar LGBT Migrant Workers (2022). Accessed via: https://bebesea.org/2022/03/spotlight-on-myanmar-lgbt-migrant-workers-in-thailand-malaysia-and-singapore-making-migration-safe-and-accessible/