Contemporary Abolitionist of the Month: Jeanette Richardson-Baars

By Katie Masi

The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our contemporary abolitionist of the month is Jeanette Richardson-Baars.

Jeanette Richardson-Baars, the deputy police commissioner of Aruba, doesn’t let limited resources stop her from exploring innovative ways to combat human trafficking. Despite lacking designated funding, Richardson-Baars built a public awareness campaign. She used her own computer to create posters in several languages to target both locals and tourists. The campaign led to several reports from the public about possible trafficking cases.

As Coordinator of the Aruba Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling Taskforce, Richardson-Baars and her team have identified sex and labor trafficking cases and prioritized both procuring justice and ensuring safety for victims. In addition to advocating for improved government policies in rescuing victims and prosecuting traffickers, the task force also focuses on victim services and support. Given the island’s small size, sheltering victims in Aruba while keeping their identity anonymous proved difficult. Because Aruba is a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Richardson-Baars advocated for a kingdom-wide Memoranda of Understanding that allowed her to care for victims off the island.

Richardson-Baars and the taskforce adopted a victim-centered approach to pursuing prosecutions while fighting for changes to anti-trafficking laws to increase prosecutions. Aruba’s first traffickers were convicted in 2013 under new statutes. Richardson-Baars and the taskforce remain committed to improving training for police and government officials to recognize trafficking, advocating for policy change, and supporting and sheltering victims.

As Richardson-Baars demonstrates, combating human trafficking requires a collaborative, multi-sector and victim-centered approach. Governments need to increase investigations and prosecutions of all those involved in trafficking while respecting survivors. Aruba’s economy is tourism-centric, so coordination between victim advocates and the hospitality and tourist sectors is critical.

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Published on October 27, 2015

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