Humans of the Anti-Trafficking Movement Part 4
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month; an opportunity to educate the community about human trafficking and empower them to take action to help survivors and work to eradicate the scourge of modern-day slavery.
The #HumansofTheAntiTraffickingMovement campaign highlights individuals throughout the Chicagoland area and their direct or indirect experience with human trafficking. We will share these stories and facts with you throughout the month. You can follow #HumansofTheAntiTraffickingMovement on the STOP-IT Facebook page and on The Salvation Army Metro Division's Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn channels.
“People say once you cross the border, people land in different homes, and from these places they send you to all different parts of the country. Many of the coyotes will say that if you don’t give them extra money they will hurt you. The coyotes will call family members into a room and say, 'We have your (niece, sister, aunt, etc.) here. If you don’t send us more money, we will kill them.'
There are many people from Guatemala that try to come up north but on their way up through Mexico they get kidnapped. There are many indigenous people that are made to stay in Mexico. The people look to see what “use” a person will have. For instance, they might not think a woman is beautiful enough to exploit sexually so they will pick her for domestic work…but others that they perceive to be beautiful or marketable they sell to the sex trade.” - Ilka, Author and Artist
While coyotes generally take people across borders in acts of human smuggling, they also can and have been linked to human trafficking situations. These are two separate instances, but often smuggling can happen first and trafficking later. Often, these linked scenarios involve a debt incurred from the smuggling fee, of which trafficking survivors are told they must continue to pay off through the work for which they are being exploited.
“I honestly don’t believe anything major happens in Oak Brook. If it does then I am not exposed to it or they know how to keep it a secret. Maybe that’s why they are able to continue doing what they do because they know how to hide it so that others can’t catch on. I’ve also seen in movies where nail salons are a place of trafficking and it truly surprises me. I would think or hope that it is a small enough business where nothing like this can happen. I’ve watched movies where the boss would make employees work and they are expected to meet a certain amount clients per day or else there are consequences. The manager takes the money or tip away from the employees. That’s a way to keep them working because since they aren’t receiving much income, they have no other option but to continue being there.” – Richard, Manicurist, Oak Brook
According to local law enforcement partners, about half of the human-trafficking cases identified in the past several years have taken place outside of Chicago. Some survivors in the STOP-IT program are from affluent suburbs. Though the general public still views human trafficking as a "big city" issue, it also impacts rural towns, agricultural communities, and even suburbs such as Oak Brook.
In 2015, the New York Times did an investigative report on nail salons in New York City where people were charged fees to work at the onset, and worked for no wages until the boss decided they were skillful enough to merit a wage. It often took 3 months to be paid, and then wages at some salons were as low as $10 a day at the start. Many had limited English capacity, and some were undocumented, which can sometimes lead to threats of deportation if employees speak up about the conditions of the environment. Labor exploitation can turn into labor trafficking when force, fraud and coercion are used to compel someone to stay in this type of employment situation.
"I have been working with homeless youth for eight years through an organization called One Heart One Soul. I have not personally known someone that has been trafficked. My mother is a domestic violence counselor and had a client that was trafficked from South America to Rolling Meadows. I have worked with youth engaged in the sex trade, but I am not sure if I have worked with a person being trafficked. Honestly, I am not sure if I would even know how to identify a trafficking situation. If I suspected something, I would probably call my mom since she has been working with domestic violence situations for decades, and ask her what to do. ” – Mireya, Monarch Thrift Store, Chicago
Under U.S. law, any youth under the age of 18 who is induced into commercial sex is a survivor of sex trafficking — regardless of the use of force, fraud or coercion. Homeless youth can be particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. In fact, a recent study of 641 homeless youth interviewed at Covenant House sites around the United States and Canada determined that nearly one in five were identified as victims of some form of human trafficking. Ninety one percent of the respondents reported being approached by someone who was offering an opportunity for income that was too good to be true.
Responding to human trafficking is about meeting people where they are. This means respecting that they know when it may be safest to leave a trafficking situation. A premature intervention could have serious consequences for a survivor with their trafficker. If someone is expressing wanting to exit a trafficking situation, it is important to not take this into your own hands, but to engage with stakeholders already working in the field, including the National Human Trafficking Hotline, local anti-trafficking programs and the appropriate law enforcement in the area.
The Police Officer
“Growing up I would see all sorts of shady situations go on and would wonder why people would out of the blue be initiated in a gang or have bruises on their bodies. As an adult, I have come to learn what human trafficking is from my college classes. Now being a Chicago Police Officer, I have come to experience and learn a lot more of what human trafficking is. I think it’s extremely difficult to spot someone in need of help because they are usually terrified of being caught talking to law enforcement. I think that the victims are taught by traffickers how to not be suspicious when police officers are around, making sure not to stand out.” - Officer Gonzalez, Chicago Police Department
Traffickers do coach the people under their control to avoid suspicion by any authority, including governmental agencies and law enforcement. In addition, past negative experiences with authority and fear of the ramifications may be deterrents for a survivor to disclose their situation.
It is also important to note that there are special law enforcement teams designated to work on human-trafficking cases both at the Chicago Police Department and at the FBI. These teams have an understanding of investigative techniques, the red flags, and some of the ways in which to broach situations of human trafficking proactively.
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 877.606.3158 to safety plan, receive technical assistance, make referrals, or access any of the above services. For more information on STOP-IT and how to support efforts to end human trafficking, visit sa-stopit.org or click the button below.