Relentless seeks liberty through health at the intersection of health and justice so that all abused, exploited or trafficked people receive quality, trauma-informed care and are empowered to thrive in robust wellness for the rest of their lives.
Relentless addresses a gap in the provision of quality, trauma-informed health care services for survivors of abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking. Assistance programs, prevention projects, policy developers, health care professionals, law enforcement, and legal professionals are not adequately meeting the complex physical and mental health needs of survivors. Relentless works to develop cutting-edge resources for training organizations, professionals, and other care providers on cutting edge tools and interventions. These efforts build the capacity of direct-service organizations to develop more holistic and effective interventions for long-term impact.
Who is Relentless?
Katherine Welch, M.D., an American physician, has been serving oppressed, trafficked, and exploited people since 2000. Her journey started at a mission hospital on the Thailand-Myanmar border where she first encountered human trafficking through her patients and other colleagues in Thailand. Since then she has worked with the marginalized and oppressed to fight slavery and other injustices in over 20 countries.
Team Relentless also includes the volunteers, interns, donors, and other partners in this collaborative work. They are also key components of what makes Relentless, Relentless! Currently, Abbie Edgar, a public health graduate living in Berlin, is assisting with a research project and resource development.
Relentless Goals and Objectives
- Expand and standardize training among European organizations working with exploited and trafficked people
- Improve and increase quality mental and physical health care for survivors of human trafficking and exploitation.
- Increase impact in prevention of trafficking among refugees and asylum seekers
- Equip health care professionals to leverage their unique skills in the fight against modern slavery
Where does your work take you and what does your work look like at the various places?
Generally, I travel to places where a host organization has invited me to visit their work and give some input as to how they can implement health care and services into their prevention, outreach, or aftercare activities. This work may take several forms and is usually a combination of several actions: clinical care, meetings with the staff, health trainings, conducting focus groups, and addressing whatever issues they want help with. Many times, there is some aspect of health care within the scope of the organization’s work, but they would like some input as to how to make it more robust and more medically sound and holistic.
I also travel to participate in conferences and workshops. Many times I’m there to give a presentation, sometimes I’m there as a participant. At these conferences there are always opportunities to learn and network with others who are doing great work in this area. Related to the conferences are the speaking engagements at medical schools, hospital, and other academic institutions to teach and raise awareness about the health consequences of trafficking in persons and the unique role of health professionals in addressing issue.
When I’m not on the road I’m working on local projects, researching pertinent topics, writing training modules and keeping up with project progress remotely by email or skype.
With whom do you work (i.e. people, organizations, etc)?
I also travel to participate in conferences and workshops. Many times I’m there to give a presentation, sometimes I’m there as a participant. At these conferences, there are ample opportunities to learn and network with others who are doing great work in this area. Related to the conferences are the speaking engagements at medical schools, hospitals, and other academic institutions to teach and raise awareness about the health consequences of trafficking in persons and the unique role of health professionals in addressing issues.
Relentless partners with organizations with whom there are shared interests and goals for health work in their counter-trafficking projects. While not an explicit requirement for partnership, these organizations all tend to be faith-based, and recommendations come by word of mouth, networking at conferences, or mutual acquaintances. The organizations may be large, involving a multi-faceted scope of work (prevention, aftercare, income-generating projects) or be quite small. Regardless, opportunities for developing a health component exist at every level and every facet of intervention.
When you do “health trainings” what do you talk about and why?
Before leading a workshop, I always first ask about what they want training on and how they will use the knowledge. I try to assess their present fund knowledge on that topic and then prepare the information. Topics may span the range of medicine, but usually include trauma, trauma-informed care, infectious diseases, reproductive health, and mental health issues. I also often present workshops on self-care and how practitioners can remain healthy in the course of caring for very broken people.
Sometimes, health work is aimed at developing a community’s health resources to help reduce people’s vulnerability to being trafficked. Community development, improving health, empowering people through education, reducing poverty all play a part in preventing people from being trafficked. Relentless is about lifting all people and improving health.
Is human trafficking on the increase, or is it just as bad as it has always been?
I have not yet found any resource that answers this question well. It seems to be on the rise, but I suspect that a lot of the recent surge in numbers of victims, identification of trafficking rings, and prosecution of perpetrators is due to our increased awareness and counter-trafficking efforts. However, I do think that increased globalization of our world has created opportunities for traffickers to operate, and there may be more of this kind of evil internationally. Even so, I believe that human slavery has continued to exist relatively unchecked in much of the world since humans populated the earth.
Does Relentless rescue victims of trafficking?
Relentless does not actively “rescue” people, as in going into brothels and taking out the child sex slaves. However, Relentless does partner with organizations that do and helps inform those involved about the immediate and long term care of the survivors.
Relentless also partners with organizations who are working on the outreach side of the work – those that are seeking out people currently in some form of exploitation to offer hope, dignity and a way out of their situation.
A lot of what you do seems focused on women and kids. Do you work with men and boys as well?
Great question! Yes, males, as well as transgender people, are also frequently victims of exploitation, either for sexual or labor work. I have opportunities to work with men and boys because there aren’t as many organizations working with these groups. This is a pervasive and severe problem because men and boys suffer just as women and girls do but are not given nearly as much attention, and opportunities to help are missed daily. The reasons for this avoidance and what we can do about it are beyond the scope of this answer. Look for more about this in future posts.
How can I get involved, get Relentless?
You can get Relentless in your neighborhood or city by becoming aware of injustices around you. You can act locally for global impact by making informed choices when you shop – environmentally sustainable, not made by slave labor, etc. There are probably others who have already formed a local action group, organization, or a chapter of a larger organization in your area. Inform yourself, then act. It doesn’t take a lot. Look for my list of recommended resources.
Of course, more can be done with more money, and with more people. There are some big ideas with what I could do with more funds. For example, I would like to be able to plan on regular visits to particular places to develop continuity, collect data, conduct follow up groups, and track the progress of trainees. Help can come in other creative ways, such as donating frequent flyer miles, volunteering time to help with administrative tasks, assisting in research, and I can think of many more ways for you to be involved. Please share your particular skill and get Relentless!
Do you have a board or organization that you are accountable to?
Yes, there is a small group of individuals who have committed to being mindful of Relentless, its vision, and objectives; hold Relentless accountable, and speak into the work regularly.
How is Relentless funded?
For more information on how to be involved through online giving, click here and please designate your gift to the project Relentless. THANK YOU!
Usually when a conference, medical school, or other activity invites me to speak my travel to/from and accommodation are paid for by the host. I also receive honoraria for giving presentations or workshops. Occasionally organizations write me into their grants as a consultant and this is another way I can generate income.
Katherine, how did you get started in this work?
I was visiting a shelter for people with no place else to go on the Thai-Burma border when I encountered a woman who looked as if she was in her late 60’s, but I suspect that she had lived not that many years. She had lived too many hard years, and it showed in her face, her eyes. I couldn’t know the stories she had to tell because she had lost her ability to connect with the world – her mental faculties had given out trying to make sense of the horrific reality of the trauma in her life.
There were others like her at that place, a safe-house on the Thai-Burma border. Nobody knew what happened to them, but they had arrived there used and abused beyond what they could handle, and their brains quit trying. Fortunately for these people, they had found care and safety in which to live; but many others have no such place.
This woman and countless others like her were the beginning sparks of my interest and work in addressing injustice through health and medicine.
As a senior medical student, I spent two months working in a small mission hospital on the Thai-Burma border. Although at that time, “Human Trafficking” was not a term commonly heard, it was still a reality for millions of people. During that time of caring for refugees, migrant workers, legal and illegal immigrants, probable trafficking victims, and prostituted women and children, the problem of the complete lack of human rights for so many people for seemingly no reason became very real and very personal. Just as astounding was the lack of awareness and attention by the West to such atrocities.
I became RELENTLESS. I am committed to addressing injustice by compassionately applying my skills as a physician to the needs that exist around me. For over a decade, I have touched the lives of refugees, abandoned children, people living with HIV/AIDS, and trafficked people. There is a unique niche for physicians to work with this special population of trafficked people, and I sought out opportunities to serve people trapped in exploitation.
Does Relentless have a child protection policy?
Child protection policies serve a three-fold purpose:
- To protect children and youth within the context of community from abuse and exploitation
- To protect the staff, volunteers, and board of directors of organizations from false accusations and allegations
- To protect an organization’s name and reputation