There is no such thing as a stupid question!
My position at the STOP-IT program centers around training and outreach—an extrovert’s dream! This means I am tasked with raising awareness about the issue of human trafficking around our service area. As a part of my role, I have the opportunity to train service providers, area professionals, and community members on how to recognize the signs of human trafficking and how to respond appropriately. It is always exciting to see how many people truly care about this issue and their eagerness to do something about it. Over time, I have noticed that many of the same questions seem to pop up.
Below are six frequently asked questions in a “Human Trafficking 101” Presentation that I felt were worth exploring further:
Isn’t human trafficking something that happens overseas?
Although public perception is changing on this issue, many people think that human trafficking is something that happens outside of the United States. The truth is that human trafficking is a global issue that affects people everywhere. Human trafficking is a symptom of issues such as poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, and forced migration. How people are trafficked from country to country can appear different, but the root causes are the same. In our program this year, roughly half of our clients are from other countries, while the other half are from here in the United States. Of the survivors that are from the United States, we have worked with people from rural, urban and suburban areas—of all different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Each person has a unique story of how they ended up in their trafficking situation.
Wait…sex trafficking is not the only kind of trafficking?
In the last 10 years, more awareness has been raised on this issue. Unfortunately, due to movies and mainstream media, many people tend to think of human trafficking only as sex trafficking. There is a narrative that the victims are primarily young girls captured by bad men. Although this scenario is sometimes true; it excludes the perhaps more prevalent types of trafficking and exploitation. People are sometimes trafficked as nannies, restaurant workers, farm or agricultural workers, in nail salons, massage parlors, or in construction. Victims of sex and labor trafficking can be from any background or gender. Traffickers often employ the same tactics of power and control independent of the type of trafficking situation. Although the exact type of exploitation can differ from case to case; all types of trafficking seek to rob people of their dignity and human rights.
You said that trafficking can happen in a nail salon or massage parlor—I like to get a massage or get my nails done. How can I know?
Yes, human trafficking can happen in a nail salon or a massage parlor (to name a few locations.) Just because it can happen, does not mean that it is happening everywhere. There are many reputable places that offer good services to their clients and a stable job to their employees. There are signs to look for that may mean that something is happening. Try to observe the culture of the salon. How is the interaction between the employees and the owner? When you give a tip, is the worker able to keep it or does the owner take it? Does it appear that people are living at the shop—either in the back or upstairs? Do the workers arrive and leave together? These could be an indication that the employer is in charge of their housing. Is what you are paying the fair market value for the service? If not, this could mean that workers are not paid sufficiently. If you see something suspicious, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline with whatever information that you have to make a confidential report.
Are all foreign national victims of trafficking undocumented?
Many foreign national workers come to the United States on legal temporary worker visas. Oftentimes, the agricultural industry, or carnival companies find themselves in a position where more workers are needed in order to successfully run their businesses. If there are not enough US workers available, businesses can request to have workers come in temporarily. Many times a third party contractor will recruit workers in the exterior to fill these positions. Generally, the workers are promised room, board, and a salary to send home. The issue is that these workers are offered very few protections. The employer is the sponsor of the visa—which means, if a worker becomes unsatisfied or wants to leave, they could potentially lose their legal status, housing, and food source all at once. In addition, some of the third-party contractors charge a recruitment fee that could cost a couple of thousand dollars. Since workers often do not have the funds for the fee, loan sharks sometimes offer to give an advance for this fee. Loan sharks tend to be local folks that know personal information about the borrower. Because of this, a worker also may fear leaving their situation due to threats that the worker’s family could receive for not paying back the debt.
What should I do if I spot a trafficking situation?
We have all heard, “If you see something, say something.” This is true, but the way that we intervene in a situation really matters. If you see that a person is in immediate physical danger, call 911. However, if it is not a situation of immediate danger, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1.888.373.7888 or Text 233733 with “HELP” or “INFO.” If you are in the Chicago area, you can call our program’s local hotline at 877.606.3158. Hotline workers will help assess the situation, find local resources, and in some instances pass on a tip to law enforcement. We recommend that people do not try to intervene on their own as it could be dangerous both for the individual trying to help and also for the person in the situation. Sometimes a well-intentioned person could make the situation worse. Instead, gather as much information as possible about the case: details about the location, your observations, and people involved. When you call the hotline, you can choose to be anonymous or not. Our law enforcement partners have informed us that it is more helpful for people reporting a situation to leave their information so that law enforcement can follow up on the details if necessary. Both the STOP-IT hotline as well as the NHTH have relationships with law enforcement officials that are trained on human trafficking. These people understand the intricacies of human trafficking and should be able to intervene in the most appropriate way.
What if the victims in the situation are undocumented? Could calling the hotline get them deported?
While there is no guarantee to be granted a visa, undocumented trafficking survivors are actually afforded immigration related relief under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This law was written in 2000, as the first federal law to combat human trafficking. In the case that undocumented people are recovered in trafficking situation, they should immediately get connected to free legal service providers who would be able to assist in getting their application started. If the individual has a strong case and is able to prove that they were made to do work through force, fraud or coercion; they can qualify for a T-Visa (Trafficking Visa). This visa eventually leads to citizenship and recipients can request for their immediate family members to come as derivatives.
If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking in the United States, you should check out the STOP-IT website at: https://centralusa.salvationarmy.org/stopit/ or the Polaris Project website at: https://polarisproject.org/. Here you will be able to find statistics on where and how human trafficking occurs as well as creative ideas on how this despicable industry can be interrupted.
Do you have other questions? STOP-IT trains communities regularly – feel free to request a training by emailing our inbox at firstname.lastname@example.org.