Alaska Native Justice Center (ANJC) Advocate Project Coordinator Heather Hagelberger received a Priceless Alaska award for anti-trafficking work at the Priceless “Redefine Worth” event this September.
Heather was one of five individuals honored with the Community Ambassador Award for the work she does at ANJC under the Domestic Victims of Human Trafficking (DVHT) grant. The grant is a group effort, under which ANJC partners with Covenant House Alaska, Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC), Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), Priceless, and CITC’s Recovery Services Department to provide coordinated, wraparound services to victims of human trafficking.
“We realize we can’t do it alone,” said Heather. “No one organization can combat something this complex.”
In 2017, Covenant House released the largest study of human trafficking ever undertaken, covering ten U.S. cities, including Anchorage. According to Covenant House, Anchorage had the second highest prevalence of trafficking of the cities studied. Of the youth surveyed for the study, 28 percent reported being survivors of human trafficking, including sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
Of the youth who identified as having experienced trafficking, 42 percent were Alaska Native.
“Especially if you’re from a rural community where you know everybody, there’s a little more trust,” Heather explained. “So when people from rural Alaska find themselves in Anchorage, they can find themselves more vulnerable to all kinds of victimization, including trafficking.”
Studies have also shown that individuals who have experienced ten or more adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are more likely to be victims of trafficking.
While stories like the one that appeared in the Anchorage Daily News in 2016, about two women from rural Alaska who had been trafficked for sex work, might be familiar to people, Heather pointed out that, often, human trafficking looks very different than people expect.
“People are familiar with the idea of sex trafficking, but it can take on very different forms than what’s talked about in the news,” Heather clarified. “Labor trafficking is also a problem and can be more difficult to see.”
Labor traffickers often use fraudulent ‘jobs’ in industries like domestic services, fishing, massage/nail salons, assisted living, or restaurants to gain control over a victim.
The hope, said Heather, is to “raise awareness and help people realize that some of what they are seeing is actually trafficking. We hope to show where and how change can be made.”
ANJC provides resources and services to all victims of human trafficking, ages 13 and older. Thanks to the partners working with them through the DVHT grant, Heather said, “We’re able to provide a ‘no wrong door’ approach, meaning that regardless of what organization a victim comes to, they can find help.”