Social service providers approach their work with the desire to support and empower others. Anti-trafficking organizations, despite a focus on trauma-informed programming, may inadvertently create a “one-size-fits-all” model of service delivery that does not account for the diverse needs of our clients.
Jatnna Gomez, LBSW, SAFE Center Director of Equity and Community Engagement, was invited as a featured speaker in “Unpacking Unintentional Harm in Empowerment Programming,” a session aimed at helping social services providers recognize and address the ways in which harm and bias may be unintentionally present in their programming. This session was held as part of the 2022 Annual Conference of the Freedom Network USA, a national anti-trafficking coalition, in Miami.
Jatnna partnered with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (Cast) on this program. Cast speakers opened the session by defining what constitutes unintentional harm and explaining why a “one-size-fits-all” model for social services can be detrimental to clients’ wellbeing.
During her portion of the session, Jatnna emphasized the importance of having discussions around unintentional harm, uncomfortable as they may be: “We never enter the profession with this idea of wanting to be gatekeepers … our intent in joining this field is to mitigate and intervene in the harm that has been done to the clients that we serve”. However, such good intentions do not necessarily translate to a lack of harm or bias in programming, and that intersectionality and positionality can affect a client’s experience of and reaction to the social services provided.
These two concepts – intersectionality and positionality – focus on how a person’s identities and their position within a system may impact their experience of the world and their interactions with others. Jatnna explained that examining the power dynamic between services providers, agencies or systems and the clients that they serve can be helpful in identifying how unintentional harm might manifest in provider-client relationships. She also described how the intersecting identities – like race, age, sexual orientation – of both service providers and survivors — can shape client experiences, whether adversely or positively. By failing to acknowledge these complex identities, Jatnna cautioned that service providers risk “inadvertently contributing to the cycle of harm that we are trying so much to interrupt.”