What Can We Do About Human Trafficking?
by Jason Bradley
Once in a while we hear a story about human trafficking in the news. Once in a very great while, we hear a story about it happening in our own backyard. Yet, it’s going on in many places in right under our nose and we aren’t even aware of it. Human trafficking is the exploitation of people that are either often looking for a way out of a bad situation or are kidnapped into forced labor or the sex trade. It is slavery. Human beings are bought and sold and forced into less than humane situations, all to make the handlers rich. And, yes, rich they are. The illicit “trade” in human beings generates billions of dollars in profits every year. It is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. It is, in some instances, being preferred above the drug trade because the “resources” can be used again and again over a long period of time, rather than a one-time injection or smoke. It generates the second most in profits behind drugs and ahead of illegal arms.
How many people are we talking about here? The International Labor Organization has estimated that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. UNICEF believes that there as many as 6 million children that have been trafficked. As many as 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States every year (700,000 total since the year 2000). These trafficked individuals are starved and beaten, and deprived of other basic human rights. Handlers threaten harm to the individual or their families, which is enough to keep them from trying to escape. Many of the trafficked end up dying from a drug overdose, an STD, or worse yet, by their own hand. Most trafficking victims are never rescued, and undergo such horrible conditions, that if we truly understood the terror that each of these people experiences, that we would do more to stop it.
Minnesota has a lot more human trafficking going on than we might realize. A report from KARE 11 had characterized the state as “a major hub in a modern slave trade” (http://www.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=839813). According to a report from The Minnesota Office of Justice Program and the Minnesota Statistical Analysis Center to the MN Legislature “Labor trafficking victims in Minnesota were reported to have been exploited in a variety of ways but most often as domestic workers such as nannies or housekeepers. Other types of labor exploitation included agricultural work, restaurant work and hotel work.” Those who are sex trafficked are involved in prostitution, stripping, and pornography. According to the same report we’ve seen annual trafficking-related charges from 2005 to 2011 for the following: Solicitation of a child (29 to 68 charges per year), Use of minor in a sexual performance (10 to 25 charges), and Coercion (5 to 19). Remember, that most perpetrators of human trafficking are never busted, let alone charged or convicted. We’ve seen human trafficking rings broken up in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, Plymouth, and other Minnesota cities.
How can we recognize if trafficking is happening in our community? It can be difficult to spot. That is a part of why it can go on without anyone knowing about it. While in some countries, brothels (often with children as the objects) are able to operate without interference from the local authorities, because they receive pay-offs from the traffickers. That is not the case in the United States. So, why are we having such trouble identifying it, and eradicating it from our cities? If we learn to recognize the signs, maybe we can help to tip off law enforcement when we notice something wrong. Now, we should never be looking for demons under every rock, and report our neighbors based on one sign, but if there are many of these signals together, then we should be critically thinking about whether it looks like there is something more going on.
The A21 Campaign has listed out some ways that you might be able to identify a human trafficking victim (http://neutrinodata.s3.amazonaws.com/a21/userimages/A21%20Website%20Resources-Spotting%20Human%20Trafficking.pdf):
• Evidence of being controlled: the person is accompanied by a controlling person, and do not
speak on their own behalf. The person is transported to or from work or the person lives and
works at the same place and is rarely allowed in public.
• Lack of control over personal schedule. The person is not able to move freely or leave a job. For
example a women who works extremely long hours, sees an important number of clients, and has
no time for herself.
• Lack of control over money. The person is not able to keep the money earned. It is “withheld for
safe-keeping.” Most of the time the person owes debt to the employer.
• The person recently arrived in the country. They often does not speak the language of the
country, or only knows sex related words in English.
• Fear, depression, and overly submissive behavior. The person is frightened to talk to outsiders
and authorities as a result of threats.
• Poor health. Sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, pelvic pain and traumas, urinary
difficulties, pregnancy resulting from rape and prostitution, infertility from chronic untreated STDs
and unsafe abortions. Malnutrition and serious dental problems.
• Bruises, scars and other signs of physical abuse and torture. Sex trafficked victims are often
beaten in areas that will not damage their appearance, like their lower back.
• Substance abuse problems or addictions. The person is often coerced into drug use by their
traffickers or turn to substance abuse to help cope with their dreadful situation.
· Many victims have a strong sense of distrust and often do not speak the language of the country.
• Before questioning a person who may be a victim of sex trafficking, try to separate the person
from the individual accompanying her/ him. This individual could be the trafficker, acting as a
spouse or any other family member.
• Evidences of possible “Stockholm” syndrome where kidnapped victims, over time, become
sympathetic to their captors.
If the suspected victim is a child, also look for the following:
• Child who does not trust adults.
• Child who is afraid of being deported by authorities.
• Child who seems to have an inappropriate behavior towards male adults.
• Child who has a cell phone despite a lack of other basic belongings.
• Child who travels alone or with a group of children accompanied by one adult who seems to guard them.
Also, if there is a house in your neighborhood where multiple people (especially men) come and go frequently throughout the day (and you cannot figure out what home business your neighbor runs by talking to them, that is a sign something may be up. An open business will be happy to let someone know what they do, as word of mouth helps to generate business. Someone involved in trafficking may be more secretive than most, going out of their way to keep neighbors away from their house. Again, someone exercising their right to privacy does not necessarily prove trafficking is happening, but when someone seems irrational about keeping you at arm’s length, it is another sign something could be up.
Per the A21 Campaign, you can ask the suspected victim the following questions to find out more about their situation:
• What type of work do you do?
• Are you getting paid to do your job? Do you receive payment or is your money being held for you?
• Can you come and go as you please? Are you supervised when you are in public places?
• How do you feel about the police?
• Have you been threatened if you have tried to leave? Have you or your family been threatened?
• Have you been physically harmed in anyway?
• Have you ever been deprived of food, water, sleep, or medical care?
• Do you have to ask permission to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom?
• Are there any locks on your doors and windows so you cannot get out?
• Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?
• Is anyone forcing you to do anything that you do not want to do?
And you can ask a child the following:
• Why did you come to (country’s name)?
• Do you have any papers? Who has them?
• Are you in school? Are you working? Can you leave if you want?
• Where do you live? Who else lives there? Are you scared to leave?
• Has anybody ever threatened you or your family to keep you from running away?
• Did anyone ever touch you or hurt you?
If you suspect human trafficking is going on (again, we don’t want to willy-nilly call out our neighbors without some proof, but if we are fairly certain something isn’t right, you should contact somebody) you should contact the following:
National Human Trafficking Resource Centre (NHTRC) Toll free Hotline: 1-888-3737-888
Local police: 911
Local FBI: Find your city by visiting this website: http://www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/focities.ht