Jamie Manirakiza, who has worked in the field of anti–human trafficking for nine years, became the territory’s specialist in this area earlier this year.
Before coming to Territorial Headquarters (THQ), she made a name for herself as director of The Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia’s anti–trafficking effort, where she engaged in community outreach and helped open the New Day drop–in center and the New Day, New Home residential program (see SAconnects magazine, September 2017).
Manirakiza also helped secure federal funding and used her extensive background in social work to provide a wide range of comprehensive services for victims of human trafficking.
She is an adjunct professor for Vanguard University of Southern California and has taught a course on human trafficking at Eastern University. Manirakiza has also done consulting work for the U.S. Department of Justice on issues related to human trafficking and has been quoted extensively in the media on topics pertaining to commercial sexual exploitation in Philadelphia.
She has been a featured speaker at press conferences and formal trainings, sharing her insights on what makes victim services successful. Manirakiza is also a founding member of the Villanova University School of Law’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation advisory council. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Eastern University and her master’s in social work from the University of Pennsylvania.
Tell us about your new role at THQ. I am the Anti–Human Trafficking (AHT) Specialist in the Social Ministries Department. This position is under Major Susan Dunigan, territorial social justice secretary. We work on many social justice–related issues going on in our territory and the world. I am working with each division’s practitioners in the field to support the national Anti–Human Trafficking Fight for Freedom goals. In addition, I support staff education, community partnerships, and volunteerism. I also help to equip each division to engage in the fight against human trafficking within communities.
What are those goals? We hope to increase The Salvation Army’s presence in communities under the Fight for Freedom goals, which are: Awareness and Training, Prevention and Outreach, Survivor Services and Recovery, and Partnerships and Advocacy. Where we have existing AHT programming, we hope to build capacity and continue to develop emerging best practices as they relate to survivor services. Where we do not have existing AHT programming, we hope to identify ways to integrate this ministry in the social services field.
What initially got you interested in the fight against human trafficking? My faith and work have always been intertwined since I became a Christian. Since that day, I have been passionate about understanding inequality in my community and in the world. Recognizing the undeserved power and privilege into which I was born and my subsequent role in social justice issues is something I have wrestled with in my journey as a Christian. Paulo Freire once said, “To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.” There are many social ills and unjust practices around the world and in our daily lives, which dehumanize others, rendering them unfree. Human trafficking is a horrific form of dehumanization of men, women, and children through labor or sexual servitude. I have always been deeply disturbed by the notion that another human being has been and continues to be sought after as a commodity. The enslavement of another person completely contradicts the faith principle that says each person has been created in the image of God, and therefore, is fully human. I am continuously challenged to question my own role in supporting systems and structural inequalities that causes others to be oppressed. I will continue to fight alongside people who are oppressed by the human trafficking industry.
Tell us about your spiritual life and the role it plays in your fight against human trafficking. I hope that my faith transcends all aspects of my life, which of course, includes my work. In that sense, my faith guides all that I do as a professional and an individual. I believe as a Christian, I should be the best steward I can be of the resources and tools God has given me. I do not fully understand why certain people suffer while others are born into privilege. What I do know is that I have the ability to engage in the fight against oppression or any practices that render another person less than fully human.
What innovative things do you see The Salvation Army doing to make a difference regarding this issue? The Salvation Army is a leader in the fight against human trafficking. In major cities, the Army is a leading provider of victim services, forging paths where others have not gone. For example, The Army leads the fight in Ohio and Pennsylvania in joint task force efforts with law enforcement partners. Army representatives also speak out against policies that negatively impact victims and survivors of human trafficking. The Army has been creative in developing best practices in service delivery. It has also helped to maximize choice and self–determination and encourage autonomy in residential programming, drop–in centers, and in case management models.
What is the biggest challenge we face? I would say an overarching challenge is fighting the status quo, fighting against systemic, structural, and societal systems that foster the commodification of human beings for labor or sexual servitude. There is so much I could say about this question, but there are many areas that need to be addressed in order to fight human trafficking.
How do you stay positive when dealing with such a serious issue? I remain hopeful that God is and will always be the same. I remain hopeful that we’re making progress despite the amount of work that still needs to be done. I believe God is faithful and this gives me hope.
Do you think we are winning the battle? Yes. In many ways we are winning. We win each time a woman enters a drop–in center and feels five minutes of warmth, respect, love, and safety. We win when that woman comes back to the center every day because she recognizes someone cares. In that process, we reflect the love of Christ. We win each time we demonstrate love and respect to an individual struggling to survive. We win each time a person finds a job, housing or reunites with family. We win each time an unjust social or criminal justice policy is reformed. We win each time a person is treated as a victim rather than as a criminal. We win each time we collaborate across multiple agencies to fight trafficking. We win each time a person obtains a visa or other immigration status. We win when a survivor finds healing. Winning can take on many faces.
interview by Robert Mitchell