Meet Darci Flynn, Senior Fellow for the City of Chicago

A conversation with Chicago's new human trafficking senior fellow

Darci Flynn joins the mayor’s office as Chicago’s new human trafficking senior fellow after serving as the associate director of the Freedom From Trafficking Program at Heartland Human Care Services. During her tenure there, Darci supervised a team providing direct services to survivors in the Chicagoland area and co-administered a national anti-trafficking program by providing training and technical assistance to service providers assisting survivors across the U.S. She is a local and national leader on human trafficking bringing over a decade of experience working with survivors of gender-based violence, human trafficking, and labor exploitation. This unique set of skills and experiences will inform Darci’s approach to preventing labor and sex trafficking as well as meeting survivors’ needs in Chicago.

Pathways to Freedom: Nationwide, you’re one of only a handful of people at the municipal level dedicated to anti-trafficking. Why were you motivated to move into this unique role?

Flynn: Over the past decade, I have worked with and helped to support hundreds of survivors. The thread that ties them all together is poverty. But not just economic poverty — lacking anything critical, whether that be economic opportunity, safety, love and support, or education. Traffickers seek out their victims with the knowledge of the gap they need to fill. Someone struggling to put food on the table or keep their family safe may jump at an opportunity to improve their lives. So often, the voids in people’s lives fail to be filled by systems that fall within the purview of government — healthcare, housing, legal assistance, safety and protection, and the ability to obtain a livable wage.

Darci Flynn, Senior Fellow on Human Trafficking, Policy, Office of the Mayor, City of Chicago

I was motivated to take this position to address these systems and ensure we are protecting people and not perpetuating the marginalization of people of color, low-wage workers, women and girls, immigrants, and the LGBTQI communities.

Pathways to Freedom: You’re just getting started in your role as a senior fellow in a new administration. What are your top priorities over the next year?

Flynn: Human trafficking and exploitation are not separate issues, nor do they exist in a vacuum. The experience of workers and the exploitation many endure falls along a spectrum. Still, regardless of where a worker falls on the spectrum, they are deserving of support, services, and opportunity. To achieve the goal of supporting workers and survivors, we need to ensure everyone has a strong understanding of what human trafficking and exploitation looks like and how and why it exists. I hope to not only increase knowledge around human trafficking and exploitation but also to call upon my colleagues in the government, community organizations, and survivors to help develop and implement an action plan to address it.

Furthermore, I have yet to meet a survivor of human trafficking who did not have other trauma in their history — childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual harassment, discrimination, or physical abuse. I will not be successful in my role without linking arms with advocates and key stakeholders who are also working across these issues.

Pathways to Freedom: How does your role build on Chicago’s existing priorities?

Flynn: The fact that Chicago sought this funding sends a message that we will not tolerate trafficking and exploitation within our community. A few examples under this new administration include the building out of the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) as a new department in Chicago. The OLS was largely designed and passed into law by worker leaders. Mayor Lightfoot’s administration has a strong commitment to building out the office to ensure workers’ rights are protected, because we know that safeguarding workers leads to stronger businesses, stronger families, and communities that will thrive.

In thinking about the root causes of exploitation and human trafficking, we will undoubtedly start to discuss intersectionality. I hope to help the city — the public and private sector and its citizens – better understand and address the intersections between homelessness and human trafficking, gender-based violence and exploitation in the workplace, immigration and low-wage work, and equity and workers’ rights. These are issues and areas the mayor is committed to addressing and will tirelessly fight to improve. We do not necessarily talk about it in a human trafficking context, but we cannot deny the relationship between many of these topics.

Pathways to Freedom: What is key to Chicago successfully implementing a citywide approach to labor and sex trafficking?

Flynn: The first step is the commitment from the administration, and I am proud to say that commitment is there. The second is the willingness to have difficult conversations about what leads to human trafficking and exploitation and what role we all play in perpetuating this heinous violence and violation of rights. As I’ve said already, human trafficking and exploitation do not exist in a vacuum, and no one person or entity will be able to adequately address it. Collaboration and innovative thinking will be critical to achieving the goal of eradicating trafficking and exploitation within Chicago. Finally, I cannot be successful without engaging survivors and those with lived experience. Therefore, I am committed to bringing survivors to the table.

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About Pathways to Freedom

Pathways to Freedom calls on cities to take urgent action to prevent human trafficking and address the unmet needs of survivors. This third challenge of the Partnership for Freedom focuses on challenging assumptions, spurring innovative city-wide responses, and sharing local solutions. Humanity United and the NoVo Foundation lead this final challenge in collaboration with 100 Resilient Cities.

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