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Vital Voices and AEquitas are wrapping up a week of anti-trafficking training on World Day against Trafficking in Persons. With support from the Department of State, we have been working to implement the Institute on the Investigation and Prosecution of Human Trafficking in Uganda since 2013. The Institute is a multidisciplinary training, bringing together police officers, judges, public prosecutors, government ministries, and non-governmental service providers to encourage a coordinated and victim-centered approach to human trafficking.

Throughout July, we have had the privilege of working with past Hilton Global Freedom Exchange Participant (GFE) Agnes Igoye. Agnes is a Senior Immigration Officer and Uganda National Anti-Trafficking Task Force Deputy Coordinator, who worked as a faculty facilitator to deliver trainings in Kampala, Masindi and Tororo. I asked Agnes about her efforts to combat trafficking, and her role as a trainer this month.

VV: How did you become involved in efforts to combat trafficking in persons?

Agnes: My involvement in trafficking really goes way, way back and is informed by my childhood. Definitely the word trafficking wasn’t there yet, but I was affected by it growing up by the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency. As young girls growing up, we were more targeted because the rebels wanted virgins, and several girls were taken away. My family and I managed to flee, and we ended up in an internally displaced persons camp at a convent. That experience stays with you, so by the time I was at university, I myself looking again at the role of family in reintegration, especially those abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Later, I joined the Immigration Service. I used to see women being trafficked, especially for sexual exploitation; which generated my interest very quickly, to the extent that I decided to apply for a Humphrey fellowship to study human trafficking policy and prevention. I can see a systematic path that I was following. Through the Clinton Global Initiative, my commitment of action was to rehabilitate survivors of trafficking and train law enforcement. I committed to training 1,000 officers, and have exceeded that. I train immigration as the training manager and have incorporated trafficking into the training schedules with immigration service. I was appointed Deputy National Coordinator of the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons office, which houses the Task Force.

VV: What is your role on the National Anti-Trafficking Task Force?

Agnes: I have to deputize my National Coordinator, who is in the U.S. to receive the TIP Hero Award, and we are excited for him. Our role is stipulated in the 2009 Trafficking in Persons Act (“PTIP Act”), [which] gives the Minister of Internal Affairs the leeway to create that office. We monitor and coordinate activities within the entire country regarding domestic and international trafficking. To coordinate and monitor those efforts is very critical, within Uganda and abroad. These are transnational organized crimes, which cut across countries. A problem in Uganda will be a problem in the U.S. even before you know it. If you leave money to go through the wrong hands, they will influence everything. We are lucky to have this law.

We have to come up with National Action Plans, and are charged with creating a national database [to track trends in trafficking]. We’ve worked with really great partners, including the International Organization on Migration, and Vital Voices, which is helping to bring stakeholders together. You’re helping us do work where there would otherwise be a gap because of limited resources. You bring in expertise that we are able to tap into.

We also come up with awareness campaigns. Prevention is key, and requires the least resources. I talk about trafficking every day, and with a platform, your voice is a free tool for prevention. I was privileged to attend the VV Hilton GFE where I joined women from around the world. Those interactions have really reinforced and helped us as a task force. Prior to our international exchanges, the trafficking cases were few; not because there were no cases, but because we hadn’t raised awareness. When we did raise awareness after passing the 2009 PTIP Act, and when we took statistics in 2013, the cases rose dramatically. It wasn’t an indication that trafficking was increasing, but people were reporting. We’ve come to terms that we have this huge problem. We are not quite there, and it is still a struggle because one victim is too many. If there is one victim we will still continue our work.

VV: What is different, or beneficial, about the Institute model?

Agnes: The method brings out a lot of participation. I am used to be at the front of the room where I’m talking the whole time, and now I am taking on a listening approach. When you give participants the floor, and make sure that even the quiet ones talk, that’s really powerful.

Another thing about the Institute is the beauty that we have international faculty with the local faculty. Having Ugandan professionals and the Vital Voices staff there is a lot of synergy, there is a way we are learning how the court process works. The beauty about Vital Voices is that their experience is not only from the US. You have worked in Cameroon and all over, are able to share those examples, and give us examples about how they’ve done things in different areas throughout Africa. It is really a very rich learning experience. Being able to train with a judge is helpful to learn about the court process. I am already incorporating it into future trainings. I am excited that we have been able to network with other professionals and have one-on-one conversations around the country that I would not be able to work with otherwise.

VV: What is your call to action?

Agnes: Globally, we need more prosecutions. We need to send that message to traffickers. Victim assistance is huge. A well-supported survivor is going to help with prosecutions. They are going to help as advocates throughout. For this Institute we have had a survivor sharing her experience. It has been so powerful to have her speak to law enforcement and prosecutors about her experience. Also, government needs to take care of its population. If there are no jobs, that creates vulnerability.

VV: What is something everyone can do to celebrate or raise awareness around World Day against Trafficking in Persons?

Agnes: I want people to have it on their calendar, and know about it. Think about victims; know that there is trafficking in your neighborhood. Trafficking exists in every country. If you know a survivor, send them a message; let them know you are in support of this day, if you know law enforcement, encourage them. If you have means, support an organization. Everybody can do something. Educate yourself about trafficking. Everyday I learn more about trafficking. Traffickers change tactics, and we have to too. Trafficking is a global problem and we have to involve everyone. Traffickers are very organized so we have to step up our game and be organized too.

Photo: Participants and partners at the Institute on the Investigation and Prosecution of Human Trafficking in Uganda. Agnes Igoye, front row, center-right, holds a sign congratulating colleague Moses Binoga, on his U.S. Department of State recognition as a TIP Report Hero.