Unseen: Labor Trafficking is Human Trafficking
People are more aware of human trafficking than ever before. It is portrayed in thrilling movies and written about in sensationalized stories. But most of what is shown tends to be less accurate than real life experiences. So often, human trafficking is more nuanced; we encounter individuals who are actively being trafficked in our daily life. We make eye contact with the person bussing tables at the restaurant, smile at the individual walking the neighbors’ kids to school, and buy candy from the child selling items door-to-door – all without a second thought. As a result, we miss the cases of trafficking that are right in front of us. Human trafficking includes labor trafficking, which is when people perform labor under threat, fraud or coercion. Many cases of labor trafficking include debt bondage, forced labor or child labor.
James was a married father of three. He came to the United States from the Philippines on an H2-B work Visa in order to provide more financial stability for his family. He worked in various casinos and hotels, coming into contact with many people on a daily basis. James would greet the guests and give a genuine, welcoming smile to everyone. Outwardly, he seemed fine. But in actuality, James was a victim of labor trafficking. He was forced to work unfair schedules, paid unfair wages, provided with poor living conditions and threatened with harm if he left. James was so desperate to leave his situation that he eventually found and called a government agency that connected him with a pro-bono attorney.
While waiting for immigration relief, James was left with limited resources. He connected with The Salvation Army, and the STOP-IT program’s staff helped him meet his most immediate needs including shelter, food and clothing. They were also able to connect him with community organizations that provided him with medical and mental health services. Equally as important, the staff helped James realize that the situation he was in was not healthy, nor legal. He worked with the Army to become more independent while he waited to connect with his family.
After almost a decade of separation, James was finally able to reunite with family – equipped with everything he needed to begin rebuilding their lives together.
The Salvation Army’s STOP-IT program helps survivors of human trafficking leave their situation and start a new life with services and referrals; regardless of age, race, nationality, gender, immigration status or sexual orientation in Cook County and the nine collar counties in Illinois. In addition to one-on-one case management, STOP-IT operates a drop-in center and staffs a 24-hour hotline for crisis intervention. Survivors, service providers, first responders, and community members can contact the hotline to receive help with a safety plan, get referrals or access Salvation Army support. For more information on how to help, visit sa-stopit.org.