Modern Americans would like to think of slavery as a shameful practice of the past, but forced servitude to abusive "owners" continues to exist in today's America in the form of human trafficking.
Because the crime of trafficking in persons is so covert, most people are unaware it is happening, never mind know how to identify or fight it. This article talks about what human trafficking is and how to identify human trafficking perpetrators.
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What Is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is a modern term for a very old practice: enslaving human beings into indentured exploitation by force, coercion, or fraud.
Aside from human organ trafficking, most cases of human trafficking fall into two general categories: "sex trafficking" and "forced labor trafficking".
Sex traffickers predominantly target women and young girls, separating them from their support groups and forcing them into performing sex acts for escort services, massage parlors, strip clubs, brothels, private residences and major sporting events and corporate conferences.
Forced Labor Trafficking
Most labor trafficking situations in the US involve recent immigrants or undocumented migrant workers desperate for employment and a better life for themselves and their families.
Male migrant laborers end up toiling in highly hazardous commercial agriculture and construction sites, while women are put to work in domestic settings, where their documents are seized and mobility limited. It is typical for forced labor victims to be trapped into "debt bondage": when their "room and board" costs supersede their earnings, so they can never work off their freedom.
Review all the different types of human trafficking here.
Vulnerable Victims Of Human Traffickers
While anyone can fall prey to this hideous crime, traffickers prefer to target a vulnerable person without strong support systems.
As such, traffickers go after individuals already struggling with poverty, unemployment, and desperation — with histories of domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse and mental or physical disability. For this reason, runaway teens and other at-risk youth are a particularly easy mark as sex trafficking victims. Child victims are especially easy to "groom" and control with fear and intimidation, which ensures that they will not tattle on their abusers.
The Anatomy Of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is a notoriously difficult evil to investigate and prosecute. Criminals operate "underground" and their victims are too brainwashed by their abusers or terrified of the authorities to self-report or even cooperate with ongoing investigations.
This is why it is crucial that everyone — individuals and companies — make it their civic responsibility to familiarize themselves with the warning signs of a potential trafficking situation — and report it to proper authorities when they identify it.
Contrary to popular image, most traffickers are not hooded strangers that snatch their victims from a van off the street: if that were the case, they would be easier to catch and prosecute.
Instead, most human traffickers employ the "catching more flies with honey" recruitment strategy. When they go through the initial stages of human trafficking, they cozy up to their victims and become their "friends" and lovers — completely gaining their trust — before moving them into isolated conditions and then using threats or force to keep them from trying to escape.
Traffickers also recruit victims through misleading job ads falsely promising glamorous "modeling" and "dancing" careers, which, of course, all lead to sexual exploitation. Finally, traffickers get their existing victims to befriend adolescent girls and boys and, once again, mislead them down the path to being trafficked.
Who Are The Human Trafficking Perpetrators?
Sex traffickers can be thugs, pimps and various members of mafias, gangs, small "family outfits." Those traffickers lure people from vulnerable and desperate situations — willing to promise marriage, wealth, glamour — whatever their victims desire most. Gradually, they break down their social and sexual boundaries until they have entrapped their victims into an exploitative, demeaning, involuntary servitude — typically involving commercial sex acts (with additional sexual abuse from the traffickers themselves).
Not all traffickers are seasoned criminals, however. Just as often, the individuals who end up ushering "new blood" into the hands of "controllers" are the victims' own friends, lovers, or even close family members! Those individuals may not be part of any specific criminal network, but when they come across an opportunity to make money, get drugs or receive other favors, they "sell out" their friends, girlfriends or unwanted children into abusive situations.
This is why traffickers are extremely difficult to spot "in the wild": the criminals among them exert their influence over the victims from the shadows until it's too late — and the "amateur" ones are operating entirely "behind closed doors" of friend circles and families — out of sight.
How To Spot A Human Trafficking Victim
Sadly, it is easier to identify victims of traffickers than traffickers themselves, as the victims share certain common characteristics in work settings that may be visible to a perceptive observer. Here are just a few "red flags":
- Victim lives with employer
- Victim lives with multiple people in cramped conditions (transported together between home and work by a "handler")
- Victim is not allowed to speak to others alone/their answers seem scripted and rehearsed
- Employer is holding the victim's passport/IDs
- Victim shows signs of physical abuse, has submissive and fearful facial expressions
- Victim is clearly underpaid/unpaid
- Victim is a minor engaging in prostitution
Reporting Suspected Cases Of Sex And Forced Labor Trafficking
If you find yourself in immediate danger — of human trafficking or any other crime — dial local law enforcement at 911!
Otherwise, the best way to report human trafficking suspicions/observations is to call the Polaris Project-run National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888, available 24 hours in numerous languages. The hotline operators will take your tip, connect you with law enforcement officials specializing in human trafficking and anti-trafficking services in your area, and provide additional resources including basic training.
EasyLlama Can Help!!
Training is not to be underestimated at the workplace! Instead of having to call in a human trafficking situation that has already victimized someone, it's best to prevent it from happening in the first place by raising awareness within one's workforce.
Consider getting EasyLlama's easy but powerful anti-trafficking e-training program! Your employees can take it straight on their mobile devices — and walk away with a an actionable understanding of how to spot and deter human traffickers in their midst.
Written by: Maria Malyk