By Elizabeth Hendrix, MSW, TIP Program Director, Refugee & Immigrant Center, Asian Association of Utah
Many of us have heard about human trafficking, but imagine it as something that happens only in other countries. The truth is, human trafficking happens everywhere…even right here in Utah. While anyone can become a victim of human trafficking, traffickers often target people who are members of vulnerable groups. Some of these groups are youth (especially runaway and homeless youth), LGBT individuals, refugees and immigrants, and survivors of sexual assault or abuse. The first step to fighting human trafficking is learning how to spot it—understanding what it is, and what the signs are. Once we know what to look for, we can identify possible trafficking situations with our friends, kids, and clients.
So what is human trafficking?
We often talk about the two major forms of human trafficking, sex trafficking and labor trafficking. According to federal law;
- Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion. or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; and
- Labor Trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. (Trafficking Victims Protection Act)
To be able to recognize and take action against human trafficking, it is important to clear away myths and misconceptions about what trafficking looks like and who it effects.
Myth 1: Trafficked persons can only be foreign nationals or are only immigrants from other countries.
Reality: The federal definition of human trafficking includes both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Both are protected under the federal trafficking statutes and have been since the TVPA of 2000. Human trafficking within the United States affects victims who are U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, visa holders, and undocumented workers.
Myth 2: Human trafficking is another term for human smuggling.
Reality: Smuggling is a crime against a country’s borders: human trafficking is a crime against a person. Each are distinct federal crimes in the United States. While smuggling requires illegal border crossing, human trafficking involves commercial sex acts or labor or services that are induced through force, fraud, or coercion, regardless of whether or not transportation occurs.
Myth 3: There must be elements of physical restraint, physical force, or physical bondage when identifying a human trafficking situation.
Reality: Trafficking does not require physical restraint, bodily harm, or physical force. Psychological means of control, such as threats, fraud, or abuse of the legal process, are sufficient elements of the crime.
Myth 4: Victims of human trafficking will immediately ask for help or assistance and will self-identify as a victim of a crime.
Reality: Victims of human trafficking often do not immediately seek help or self-identify as victims of a crime due to a variety of factors, including lack of trust, self-blame, or specific instructions by the traffickers regarding how to behave when talking to law enforcement or social services. It is important to avoid making a snap judgment about who is or who is not a trafficking victim based on first encounters. Trust often takes time to develop. Continued trust-building and patient interviewing is often required to get to the whole story and uncover the full experience of what a victim has gone through.
Myth 5: Human trafficking only occurs in illegal underground industries.
Reality: Trafficking can occur in legal and legitimate business settings as well as underground markets. Human trafficking has been reported in business markets such as restaurants, hotels, and manufacturing plants, as well as underground markets such as commercial sex in residential brothels and street based commercial sex.
Myth 6: If the trafficked person consented to be in their initial situation or was informed about what type of labor they would be doing or that commercial sex would be involved, then it cannot be human trafficking or against their will because they “knew better.”
Reality: Initial consent to commercial sex or a labor setting prior to acts of force, fraud, or coercion (or if the victim is a minor in a sex trafficking situation) is not relevant to the crime, nor is payment. National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
What are the signs to look for?
Knowing the “red flags” to look for can help you S.P.O.T. human trafficking:
Secretive: Victims of human trafficking may be secretive about their lives and work, due to shame, fear, or threats from their trafficker. They may be disconnected from their family, friends, community or religious organizations and unwilling to speak about their living conditions or profession.
Physical or Psychological Abuse: Trafficking victims often are physically or psychologically abused. The person may have bruises in various stages of healing or other injuries such as broken bones, burns, or bite marks. Individuals may also appear to be disoriented or depressed, showing signs of psychological abuse.
Ownership: One definitive characteristic of human trafficking is someone exhibiting ownership over someone else. This may entail an employer or boyfriend/companion withholding pay or legal documents, controlling the victim’s decisions, or keeping them under close supervision. The trafficker may limit the victim’s freedom of movement or control their living situation. They may even put a “brand” on the victim showing ownership, in the form of a burn or tattoo. Another sign of ownership is if a victim seems to be coached on what to do or say.
Tense: Victims may seem very tense or fearful. The person may have a sudden or dramatic change in behavior or seem fearful, timid, or submissive. The victim may also be particularly fearful around specific people, such as the traffickers or law enforcement. (SPOT Campaign)
What can you do?
Learn More. To learn more about human trafficking, you can visit www.traffickingresourcecenter.org. Or, call the Asian Association of Utah, 801-467-6060, to learn more about local services and request training.
Take Action. If you think someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 1-888-3737-888 for information and local services (for your safety and the victim’s safety, never approach a possible victim or trafficker!).
Spread the Word. The more people know about human trafficking, the more we can identify victims and get them the help they need. This month, join people throughout the country and use #EndTrafficking to share information and raise awareness about human trafficking.