Guest Blog: Willow “has the human factor covered.”

Change a Path is a donor circle committed to fighting sex trafficking and is a major contributor to Willow International. Shannon Rogers, Founder of Change a Path, traveled to Uganda to attend a training session where judges and court officials learned about anti-trafficking laws and the victim-centered approach.

Read about the trip from Shannon’s perspective:

This past March I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Uganda to attend the judicial training that Willow was instrumental in organizing. As a funder, I often take trips to visit sites and/or organized events. Most of the time, I don’t know what to expect. I like walking in blind and letting the grantees show me what they want me to see. It’s an opportunity for the organizations to show their perspective on the issues and their solutions.

I didn’t know what to expect in Uganda. Attending the training was a great opportunity to see Willow in action, meet the team, and see how they work with their partners and engage new partnerships. What I found was deep passion to support women and girls, commitment to advocate for them in thoughtful and impactful ways, and an eagerness to learn and do more. The afternoon panel on the second day encapsulated what I experienced during my four days of engaging with the beautiful community of Willow, and highlighted the importance of their work in Uganda.

The training was packed with legal and practical information including:

  • An overview of Uganda’s strong trafficking law
  • Practical details on evidence and building a trafficking case
  • How trauma presents itself and how to work with traumatized victims
  • Methods to run a trauma informed courtroom

The 75+ judges and prosecutors in the room were engaged. The training and education provided them with tools to address trafficking issues in their communities and in their courtrooms. Solutions and guidelines were clearly laid out for them. Then came the panel with the Willow advocates. The panelists were asked to share their experiences and challenges in supporting women or girls that have been trafficked—what do they see in the courtroom and in their clients’ trials. The conference room became a hubbub of noise and chatter, the audience was upset and shocked to hear the lived experiences of Willow staff and clients.

The training had been very clear. Judges were given tools to run a trauma informed courtroom and trained in the law. Prosecutors were given guidance on how to build a strong case and address the challenges of proving Act, Means, and Purpose. The panel brought the realities of tackling the systemic and social issues that enable sexual exploitation into the conversation. People didn’t like hearing that witness addresses were being given to the defense team without any thought for the victims safety. Or that a judge would prosecute under one law but sentence under a completely different one. Or that a 14-year-old girl was forced to testify in court about her sexual abuse, in front of her trafficker and her family.

The systemic work and training in the laws and tools to address these issues is critical, but it is not a complete picture. The human factor must be addressed as well. The work goes beyond a law and its enforcement, it is about changing individuals behaviors and changing social norms. The lack of understanding and empathy in working trafficking cases can be harmful and dangerous. A trauma informed and victim centered approach needs to be at the core of all systemic and legal work to address trafficking.

Willow brings the human factor to the Ugandan Government’s work on these issues.  They are able to advocate for those most severely impacted by this crime, and elevate their needs to those most able to provide support. Trafficking is a complex societal problem that will not be addressed by prosecution alone, it needs to be addressed on the individual, family, and community level. Seeing the passion and commitment of the Willow staff to best support their clients, work with their partners to share best practices and address gaps in services, and their desire to do better was the best part of my visit to Uganda. They have the human factor covered.