What is Human Trafficking?

The 5 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

1)  Human Trafficking = Slavery. It’s about forced labor for the commercial profit of another.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 states that anyone forced, defrauded or coerced into labor or sexual services for the commercial gain of another is a victim of trafficking.

2) It’s about the violation of our most basic human right – FREEDOM. Victims of trafficking are unable to leave their current place of employment due to threats, physical constraint, and lies.  Traffickers create a complete climate of fear, ensuring that their victims are too terrified to hope to escape

3) It’s not about transportation or movement. Although the word “trafficking” elicits images of smugglers and vehicles hiding a cargo of human bodies, the crime of human trafficking is about restricting the freedom of others.  The act of smuggling is ONLY about illegally crossing international borders.  Human trafficking is about deceit, constraint, and enslavement.

4) It happens everywhere.  Traffickers seek out vulnerable populations who they can compel, coerce and defraud into slavery.  Vulnerabilities exist in every country and therefore no country is immune to having its own citizens enslaved.  U.S. citizens are enslaved right now in the U.S., as are foreign-born persons from Central America, Asia, Africa, Easter Europe, etc.  Marginalized populations are the most vulnerable to traffickers.  Any group or individual who is seen as undeserving, culpable, or unwanted are vulnerable to being enslaved.  The traffickers seek out each community’s “throw-aways” understanding that there are very few people protecting them.

5) Victims have rights.  Regardless of immigration status, age, gender – victims of trafficking should be afforded their federally mandated rights to be treated as victims, not as criminals.  There U.S. government funds regional task forces to investigate and prosecute human trafficking.  Each task force is paired with an Office for Victims of Crime program to support survivors of trafficking and ensure that their rights as a victim are being met.


What is Human Trafficking?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines human trafficking as:

1. the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services

2. through the use of force, fraud, or coercion

3. for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, slavery or forced commercial sex acts.

It’s not about transportation

It’s not about immigration status

What Exactly Are We Looking For?

Someone who has been coerced, defrauded or forced into some type of labor or sexual services for the profit of another.  Often the “profit” doesn’t entail an exchange of money, rather a payment on a debt.  People may have willingly gone along with the job offer at first – but if at any time they are prevented from leaving by threats, force, blackmail, etc. this would potentially be human trafficking.  The most important features in trafficking cases are the combined LABOR or SERVICES with IMPLIED or DIRECT PROFIT of another.

Debt is one of the most common factors in trafficking cases.  The typical story involves victims being made to work off travel debt or immigration document debt.

Who is Vulnerable?

Traffickers choose people who have the following vulnerabilities:

1)      Little knowledge of the helping systems in the U.S. and who can seek help

2)      Little knowledge of their rights

3)      Perceived by the general community to be unwanted, culpable in their victimization, or undeserving.

4)      Do not speak English

5)      Are in a desperate situation requiring money

6)      Have very few people looking for them or who would miss them if they disappear or people whose family members are vulnerable to retaliation from the trafficker.

7)      People who have an existing fear of and/or past bad experiences with seeking help

How Can Advocates Recognize Human Trafficking in Clients?

Clients will not self-identify. The general community does not know that human trafficking is the name for this particular form of exploitation.  Clients may report other things such as:

Stolen immigration/identification documents

Unpaid wages

Employer abuse

Sexual assault

Black mail

Debt bondage

Escaping last place of employment

Fear of employer retaliation on family

Gang stalking

Immigration fraud

Human trafficking is a crime that victims recognize in themselves and that advocates recognize in their clients only after education.  In addition to the inability to self-identify, most victims don’t believe they have any rights, and have been told by the trafficker that law enforcement are corrupt, are participants in the trafficking ring, and don’t care about them.  Education and awareness are the most important tools to help end trafficking and restore justice to victims.

One basic way to spread human trafficking awareness in clients is to offer them opportunities to recognize this exploitation in their own experiences or the experiences of others.  Posting outreach materials in common areas and offering handouts in their language of choice is essential to helping victims.  This outreach material should allow victims to call a number anonymously and should indicate their rights in the US regardless of their immigration status.

Another way to ensure that your agency is recognizing human trafficking is to provide training for staff and volunteers working with clients.  By offering even small trainings advocates are able to become equipped with the right information to offer a knowledgeable response when they hear about a potential human trafficking situation.  This type of education also allows advocates to anticipate the most common fears clients would have in reporting trafficking and brainstorm protocol to address these fears while still helping them access their federally mandated rights.

Lastly, offering human trafficking education to clients not only allows them to recognize trafficking in their community, but it allows them to prevent their community members from being victimized.

I used to be scared because of the threats people would make like deportation but my lawyer showed me not to be scared. She told me that I have the same rights as everyone else and I feel like a real citizen. This country has been there for me and has done more for me than my own country. I wish I was born here. In my country they hurt people and no one says or does anything. Before meeting them [the CTCAHT] I did not know I had rights. “  – survivor of trafficking in Austin, TX

What Resources Exist for Victims?

Under the TVPA victims of trafficking have certain rights including:

  • An explanation of their rights, in their language
  • Access to an interpreter
  • Access to medical attention
  • Access to shelter appropriate to a victim
  • The right to seek legal counsel

In addition, the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime funds Victim of Trafficking Programs which offer supportive financial and case management services to victims who are willing and able to cooperate with law enforcement.  These programs offer comprehensive services and financial support for victims who are awaiting their T-Visa.  Once a victim is awarded the T-visa (or a work permit via Continued Presence), they will receive Certification through Health and Human Services that allow them to access social benefits to the same extent as a refugee.  The Victims of Trafficking Program also ensures that clients are transferred into these refugee programs and receive all necessary services.  In cases where victims of trafficking prefer to return home to their country of origin, these Program can assist them in safe travel.

T-Visa recipients can apply to bring over their immediate dependent family members on a T-Derivative Visa.  The VOT Program can assist in preparing for the family’s arrival and supporting them once they arrive.  T-Visa holders can apply for residency after 4 years, followed by citizenship.

Victims of trafficking who already have the legal ability to work cannot access these services but will be referred to services as needed.

What are the Expectations of a Victim to Receive these Services?

Under the federal law victims of trafficking must be willing to cooperate with reasonable requests made by law enforcement in order to allow police to investigate the crime.  This cooperation does not have to result in arrest or prosecution of the trafficker.  Victims must only give the information they have.  Minor victims of trafficking are not required to cooperate with law enforcement to receive services.

What to Do If You’re Unsure About a Situation Being Trafficking or a Victim is Scared to Talk to Law Enforcement

1)      You or your client can always call the National Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-888-3737-888 – to speak with an operator and present the case information.  The Hotline is 24/7 and has access to 170 languages.  The operator will take the information and pass it on to law enforcement if it is an anonymous call reporting on other victims or a call requiring emergency assistance.  Otherwise, victims will be given the number of the closest helping agency with knowledge in the area of human trafficking

2)      It is advisable that even when a client does not wish to report, they seek immigration legal assistance.  If there is a potential trafficking case please contact an experienced immigration attorney to screen for T-Visa eligibility.  The hotline mentioned above may be able to refer you to a free or low-cost immigration attorney in your area.

National Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-888-3737-888

Austin Police Department, Human Trafficking Unit – (512) 974-4786

Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking – www.ctcaht.org

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