Elizabeth Scaife is the Senior Director of Training at Shared Hope International, where she develops and implements customized training curricula for audiences across the United States on how to identify and respond to victims. She also coordinates Shared Hope’s annual Juvenile Sex Trafficking (JuST) Conference, which emphasizes a unique collaborative community approach. We talked with her about how she got involved in this work, and why the JuST Conference is so successful.
Q. What does your job entail?
My role is primarily focused on the development and implementation of our organization’s training initiatives. I frequently travel the United States providing in-person training to professionals, but I also create new training resources that get added to our library for purchase, and I coordinate our state and national training events. Currently, I’m managing the launch of a virtual training platform with the goal of reaching professionals who have limited resources and may not be able to afford to attend a conference.
Q. What kind of trainings do you do?
We offer blended learning initiatives and a very deep foundational training on domestic minor sex trafficking. Our bread and butter, our expertise, is victim and trafficker profiles, recruitment, grooming, control tactics, gang trafficking, sex buyers, and the impact of trauma on the victim. It’s largely about identifying and then responding accordingly. It’s not about providing therapy or doing investigations, but it’s setting the foundation, and then the next level would come through our network of training and professionals.
Q. What does your training on sex buyers look like?
Shared Hope as an organization has always been dedicated to victim-centered justice, which recognizes buyers as the driving force behind the business of trafficking, alongside the traffickers and the facilitators. The buyer is the subject that is still commonly avoided in professional trainings, probably because most trainers don’t have subject matter expertise, or frankly they just don’t see it as relevant to the skill development of their audience. But, I would disagree with this wholeheartedly because, as professionals, it’s important we understand that the impact of trauma on victims comes from a spectrum of experiences, including those at the hands of sex buyers. And if you’re focused only on the recruiting and control tactics used by traffickers, then you’re missing this critical piece of the puzzle. Cultural tolerance is a leading obstacle in the prosecution of sex buyers. At the end of the day, most people find it very hard to believe that their friendly neighbor, their pastor, their coach, their colleague, or their family member is leading this secret, disgusting lifestyle of a traveling sex buyer. So, it’s our ignorance that gets in the way of justice for victims.
My training undermines this because I challenge my audience to accept that justice for victims includes the prosecution of sex buyers, regardless of whether they say it was their first time, or they’re married and they have kids, or they seemed like good people and upstanding citizens. That’s irrelevant. The prosecution of sex buyers is essential to our work curbing trafficking.
I expose sex buyers for who they are based on the things that they say online, case studies, everything. I share just as much information about buyers as I do about traffickers. And it’s always shocking to my training attendees. It changes their perspective. And that’s what we want, right? I want you to stop thinking of these people as just your normal everyday people. I want you to see them for what they are and I want you to be inspired to be a part of the cultural shift, and to support legislation that upholds stronger penalties. It’s my responsibility as a trainer to give you a 360-degree view on this issue, and I’m not doing that if I’m leaving out this critical piece.
Q. What brought you to this work?
I always had a passion for education and community mobilization, but I’ve also had a personal dedication to work that would achieve a greater purpose. Prior to Shared Hope, my career was focused on campus and community initiatives both domestically and internationally. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, and I changed gears to spend two years doing relief work, which was awesome. I loved it, but it was also exhausting.
I decided to join a team that was traveling to Africa and Asia for several months. In Thailand, I provided English language classes to women who were voluntarily leaving the commercial sex industry. There was one night specifically where I came face-to-face with some European women who were being guarded and controlled by their traffickers. Before that moment, I felt a bit cavalier about what I would do if I saw something that I knew was trafficking. I thought I would rescue them. Of course, I would just grab their hand and walk out and no one would stop me because that’s kind of my personality. And then it happened; I was face-to-face and I suddenly realized that there was nothing I could do. Here I was in a foreign country. I didn’t even have a cell phone, no police contact, no resources, I had nowhere to go with these girls that I was going to “rescue.” I had nothing, and literally in that moment I came face-to-face with this, acknowledging that to myself: I was not prepared and I had no control over the situation. I ultimately had to walk away from that place, and I left those girls behind. It broke my heart. I was wrecked.
I reported it later to authorities, but those girls were gone by then. It was that day, it was that moment, when I knew I’d be working in anti-trafficking. And I knew that I’d do whatever it took to prevent further victims from experiencing that.
Q. What are you most excited about with your training work?
The one project I am most proud of is our annual JuST Conference, which was my idea from inception to implementation. We don’t have a funding source for this event. So, when I pitched the idea several years ago, it was a big risk for us financially, but everyone got behind me. Since then it’s become the biggest and most successful event in the history of Shared Hope. It brings experts, professionals and survivors from across the country. Shared Hope is fully dedicated to fostering this collaborative community response to trafficking that we truly believe in. No one is left out. We don’t restrict attendance at the conference to professionals only, so anyone from the community can attend. From that, the results have been phenomenal.
As the Director of Training, I manage every detail of the conference, which is really demanding and stressful, but also really rewarding. When I see every year what this event means to our attendees and our network as a whole, it’s very fulfilling.
Q. Why do you think your conference has grown significantly year over year?
We are always looking for the hot topics, new relevant things and innovative solutions, the things that are happening in communities that don’t have resources. We’re focused entirely on domestic minor sex trafficking. If you’re working in that field, then this is THE conference for you. Because this is an issue that’s now impacting every child serving agency, from welfare, to probation, to juvenile court systems, all of those people will find everything that they need to do their job better in one event. The connections, the training, the personal experience itself, the encouragement, the inspiration, all of these things happen at our event. I also think we’re set apart by the fact that we have so many survivor presenters. I don’t think you’ll go to any other conference in this country, regardless of what the subject is, and have access to the survivor perspectives that you’ll gain from ours. I think all of these things together create a perfect storm for a training event.
Q. What’s the single biggest takeaway that people have after attending your conference?
As professionals they feel reinvigorated, refreshed, and inspired to do things differently, and they are equipped to do that. When you’re the boots on the ground, you never have enough resources. You never have enough staff. You’re always overwhelmed. You’re always drowning. When you come to an event like this, you’re surrounded by people who get you, who understand that, and who can say, “Hey, try this,” or “Hey, guess what? That struggle you’ve got, that obstacle you’re facing, we already tackled that over here. Call me; I’ll walk you through it.” All of a sudden you’ve got somebody that you’re sharing the burden with, and by default you’re going to go home feeling a little bit lighter, feeling like, “I can do this. It’s possible, and now I have the resources to do it.”
Q. You’ve trained over 5,000 federal, state and local representatives, including state policy leaders, and you provide technical assistance to Human Trafficking Task Forces in several states. What have you learned about these different groups, and what role do they play in ending sex trafficking?
I have learned across the board that collaboration and resource sharing are absolutely the foundation of every major success in our field. I believe that every person plays a role, and that individual success doesn’t mean nearly as much as collective success. We need the volunteers, the teachers, the parents, and the survivors just as much as we need the cops, the prosecutors, the service providers, and the legislators. Everybody’s got an equal stake in this game and not one of these pieces is bigger than the other, because they all work collectively together.
My job allows me to be on the ground in communities across the country. I love that part of my job, because I get to see the common challenges that are faced by every community and also how they’ve overcome them. And then I’ve seen that wisdom shared from one coast to another, increasing the ripple effect of positive change and success in the whole movement. I’ve seen resources and tools developed in one state replicated and then improved upon with resources in another state. I’ve seen innovative solutions piloted in large or small communities that would never even be known about anywhere else if those groups didn’t have a connection to this national network through groups like Shared Hope.
So one of the best outcomes related to my role is connecting professionals to one another, whether it’s training, idea sharing, encouragement, or support on investigations and victim recovery. I personally believe that we all need each other and we’re stronger together for relying on one another. For all the pain, all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into collaboration with taskforces and coalitions and communities, it is truly a labor of love. At the end of the day if we concentrate on who we’re serving, which are the victims—not ourselves—then we’re better for it and so are they.
The views and opinions expressed in this interview are that of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Demand Abolition.
About the Spotlight Series
Across the world, people are doing powerful, innovative work to end prostitution and sex trafficking. Our Spotlight Series of blog posts features leaders in the anti-demand and abolitionist movements. We want to showcase these essential contributions to the fight against sexual abuse.
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