No one in the United States wants to think about human trafficking. As repellent as the slave traders who first brought African Americans in chains to the United States, human traffickers are difficult to investigate and to prosecute for a host of reasons. The victims are poor, faceless, nameless, powerless, and invisible. Men are trafficked, but victims are primarily women and children.
Human trafficking victims are often betrayed by those they should be able to trust, people from their own home towns or even relatives who dupe them into believing that they are coming to the United States for legitimate employment. They are coerced or lied to so that others can have power over and profit from them. They have already broken the law by entering illegally. Their captors keep whatever identification paperwork they have. Not only are they threatened, but their families at home are also threatened. They are shadow people, living in fear, disenfranchised by lack of documentation, language barriers, and fear.
Eighty percent of trafficked human beings are enslaved as sex workers. Those remaining are enslaved as restaurant employees, as well as farm and domestic workers. A prominent cookbook author from upscale Westchester County, NY enticed young European women to come to work for him as an au pair. Once they arrived, he enslaved them in his isolated home. A large human trafficking ring was also discovered on Long Island, NY, another New York City suburban area.
The Greater New York area represents a rich human trafficking market. New York law enforcement has responded with a number of trafficking task forces, but prosecution is difficult because of the invisible nature of the crime and the difficulties of working with the victims. In many of their home countries, police are as feared as the criminals because of the corrupt nature of their society.
Accurate estimates regarding the number of victims are difficult. Perhaps 15,000 victims arrive in the United States each year, with advocacy agencies estimating as many as 100,000 victims of human trafficking currently in the country.
The Trafficking Victims Protective Act was passed in 2000 allowing federal law enforcement to successfully prosecute traffickers and allowing the court to impose stiff penalties. However, the federal government relies on the states to prosecute such cases. Connecticut and New York have effective laws against human trafficking. Shared Hope, a human trafficking victim advocacy group, reports that Maine, Massachusetts, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming also have no laws targeting human traffickers.
What can you do?
Contact your Congressman (or woman) if you live in Massachusetts, Maine, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming to express your views about the lack of effective human trafficking laws in your state. If you are a member of law enforcement, be attuned to possible cases of human trafficking in your jurisdiction. Caliber Corporation submitted a human trafficking study to the Department of Justice in 2006. Among the recommendations of that study were establishing collaborative groups of members of law enforcement and social service providers to better address the needs of human trafficking victims.
First responders should keep in mind the following red flags in working with possible human trafficking victims:
Evidence of restricted movement
Nervousness when asked how they arrived in the United States
Lack of English-speaking employees present in one establishment
Marks on wrists or ankles consistent with handcuffs and other restraints.
Excessive numbers of “security personnel” (bouncers) outside the building positioned to keep people inside.
Locks installed to secure exits and permit entrance into a building.
The person is accompanied by a controlling person or boss.
The person does not speak on his or her own behalf.
The person lacks control over personal schedule, money, ID, travel documents.
The person is transported to or from work by others.
The person lives and works in the same place.
The person owes a debt to an employer or crew leader.
The person is unable to leave his or her job.
The person seems afraid, depressed, or overly submissive.
The person has bruises or other signs of physical abuse.
To report an instance of suspected trafficking, please call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888
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