You Can Stop Modern Slavery

Slavery still exists, not only in remote areas of the world but in every one of our United States. Called “human trafficking,” this modern-day slavery is the illegal trade of human beings for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. One can imagine how undocumented, financially-struggling immigrants could be vulnerable. However, it may surprise you that trafficking victimizes people of every race, sex, age and national origin. For example, middle-class run-away teenagers in America are at risk. Trafficking goes against every value the U.S. stands for. We can’t allow it to happen here, but it is.

No matter who you are and what you do, you can help: (1) learn about human trafficking, (2) spot it and report it and (3) educate and advocate.

First, you can learn about the scope of human trafficking. There are many good articles, audio and video presentations on the web as well as documentaries and movies. Worldwide, the most prevalent forms of trafficking are in agriculture, mining and forced prostitution. Some are enslaved through debt bondage, having to work to pay off an illegal “debt.” With changing economic conditions, many poor people have moved from rural areas to cities in search of work. Not finding work, they are vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers. The feminization of poverty puts women and children at particular risk.

Some victims have migrated to the United States, only to be exploited by traffickers who take advantage of the migration process and migrants’ fears of being deported. The slaveholders use legal or forged documents, often making use of various kinds of visas to ultimately coerce women and girls for prostitution and women and men for forced labor. Often confused with smuggling, human trafficking is a distinct issue. Smugglers simply charge a fee in helping migrants to illegally cross a national border. In trafficking, a smuggler sometimes sells the migrants to a slaveholder or becomes a slaveholder himself or herself. Increasingly, traffickers are organized into crime syndicates.

Enslavement may be gradual for some victims. For example, a Cinquera (Spanglish term for a girl or young woman who charges a man $5 to dance with her) could eventually find herself involved in a prostitution ring.

Second, you can learn to spot human trafficking and to stop it. Teachers, health care workers, police, transportation workers and social workers may be more likely to encounter trafficked individuals. However, you may hear stories of trafficking in your community, through your fellow church members or simply sitting in your doctor’s waiting room. Pay attention to the signs and be ready to help.

What are the signs? Every situation is unique as you will see by researching the problem. However, notice evidence of persons being controlled, inability to move or leave a job, bruises or other signs of physical abuse, fear or depression. Ask questions such as “what type of work do you do?” “Are you being paid?” “Can you leave your job if you want to?” “Have you or your family been threatened?” Even if there’s a language barrier, be friendly and understanding. When people are in crisis, they are more likely to trust and accept help.

How can you help? Keep in your wallet or planner the phone number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline: 1-888-373-7888. Specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to take reports from anywhere in the country related to potential trafficking victims, suspicious behaviors and/or locations where trafficking is suspected to occur. All reports are confidential, and interpreters are available.

Specialists can link victims to resources in your community. Victims may need immediate assistance such as housing, food, medical care, safety and security. They may also need mental health counseling, connection with supportive family members and legal assistance.

Third, consider educating others about human trafficking. Perhaps, you work in a setting where you could incorporate this into employee training. Additionally, churches, civic groups and informal gatherings of friends are all places where you can inform and inspire others to act. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a good time to plan a presentation and discussion.

Notice that systemic problems perpetuate trafficking, particularly restrictive immigration policies that lead to an underclass of undocumented families. Tell your congressperson to act on critical anti-trafficking legislation.

We are all responsible for ensuring that no person falls prey to modern slavery.

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