Helping a Survivor Find Life After Labor Trafficking
January 11 is the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, an annual opportunity to focus on the realities of this complex and troubling issue impacting our own neighborhoods. This year Elyse Dobney, the program manager of The Salvation Army’s STOP-IT anti-trafficking program in the Metropolitan Division, turns our attention to labor trafficking, which she says isn’t discussed enough. Elyse illustrates the problem by sharing the story of one of their past clients, a woman we’ll call Faith.
Faith came to the U.S. legally. The 45-year-old mother from Nigeria arrived in the Chicago area on a temporary work visa to nanny a child and clean the family’s home. Faith would live with the family and they would pay her for her work. Everything seemed above board.
But she soon realized she was being paid far less than the amount they’d agreed upon. Faith was doing all the tasks the family requested but was paid very little for her work. She also wasn’t allowed to leave the house without permission and was deprived of her needed medication.
When Faith raised her concerns, her employers threatened her with deportation. This was a serious issue. One of the stipulations of her work visa was that she work for that specific family. Faced with potential legal action, she felt shame and guilt. Faith had come to the U.S. to do honest work to support her family back home. She felt she had no other option but to stay.
Eventually, it got to the point where Faith didn’t think she could survive another day in the household – so she fled the home. She wandered into a church one day and when the minister heard her story, he thought it sounded like labor trafficking. He called some anti-trafficking organizations, eventually reaching The Salvation Army’s STOP-IT anti-trafficking program in the Chicago area.
STOP-IT staff members worked to connect Faith with resources she needed to achieve a stable and independent life. After discussing her housing options, Faith decided to stay with a family from the church. STOP-IT staff also connected her to an immigration attorney, so she could begin the process of applying for a visa to stay in the U.S. They also helped her get the medical care she had been deprived of for over a year as well as basic needs, such as clothing, food, toiletries, and household items.
Thankfully, Faith was granted a U.S. visa, which allowed her to get a job. This allowed her even more independence as she was able to earn money to pay her bills and even send some money home to support her children. Most importantly, being granted a U.S. visa allowed Faith to apply for visas for her children so they can hopefully be reunited.
“So many people in our communities are in similar situations to her,” Elyse said. “They come over via legal means, are denied their earned wages, are threatened with deportation, and they don’t know their rights have been violated.”
“I’m thrilled to say that through The Salvation Army’s STOP-IT program, we’re able to walk alongside them to explain their options and available resources and get them connected with attorneys and other essential providers.” The goal, she said, is not just to help them exit their trafficking situations but to restore their choices and help them build a successful, independent life.
Learn more about trafficking at The Salvation Army’s national anti-trafficking website sajustice.us.