Human trafficking targets the vulnerable

CNS/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva
People display signs in Los Angeles in advance of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in this file photo.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

CLINTON — A survivor of human trafficking who gave a presentation to a Lunch and Learn group Jan. 10 said, “Anyone can be at risk if they can be coerced or manipulated.” A Lunch and Learn participant underscored that statement by identifying herself, a college graduate in her late 20s, as a survivor.
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month. The Lunch and Learn event sponsored by the Franciscan Peace Center’s Anti-Trafficking Committee in Clinton aimed to raise awareness about human trafficking and to help prevent it. It is among the human trafficking awareness events scheduled throughout this month in Iowa.
In addition, anti-trafficking advocates are lobbying the Iowa Legislature to pass a bill requiring hotels/motels that receive state business to provide their employees with training to recognize and report signs of human trafficking. Advocates introduced a bill last year but it did not advance. “We certainly supported the bill last year,” said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of Iowa’s Catholic bishops. He anticipates the bishops supporting a new version of the bill.

Trafficking happens here

The presenter in Clinton declined to talk about her personal experience but said she has taken many steps toward healing. A college graduate contemplating law school, she now works with other survivors of human trafficking on holistic healing through Braking Traffik of Family Resources in the Quad Cities. The agency has served more than 100 survivors of human trafficking in the past year and a half, she said.
She showed a video featuring three female human trafficking survivors from eastern Iowa. “It’s going on around us, we just have to be aware,” the presenter said.
Brittany of Cedar Rapids ran away from home before reaching her teens and became the victim of a sexual predator who forced her into prostitution. Sara of the Quad Cities fell into the wrong crowd in high school and sunk into an out-of-control life focused on drugs and alcohol. She engaged in sex for money in early adulthood because she felt dependent on a female landlord who led a prostitution ring. Christi of Dubuque also got caught up in drugs in high school and eventually became a victim of sex trafficking.
Each victim had lost a sense of self-worth and self-esteem, and the adults who preyed on them took advantage of their vulnerability. Tears formed in the eyes of the three women as each, in separate interviews, described their painful, hurtful experiences. Each one found help and all three have developed into survivors striving to prevent human trafficking.

Who is at risk?

Persons most at risk for human trafficking live in poverty or with family dysfunction, child welfare involvement, homelessness, mental health problems, drug/alcohol abuse, neglect, intimate partner violence, school problems or are runaways, the Lunch and Learn presenter said. Victims of human trafficking fall within one of two broad categories — labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Some victims may fit in both categories.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, citing the U.S. Department of Human Services, said that after drug dealing, “human trafficking is tied with arms dealing as the second-largest criminal industry in the world, generating about $32 billion each year.”
An estimated 83 percent of sex trafficking victims identified in the U.S. were U.S. citizens, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Miller said. Children are among the many victims of sex trafficking, he noted. “The average age that U.S. citizens are first used for commercial sex is 12-14.”
A 2017 study titled “Understanding Human Traffick­ing in Iowa” reported “In 2015, professionals indicated serving nearly 100 or more confirmed sex trafficking cases and more than 50 confirmed labor trafficking cases. An additional 100 or more human trafficking cases were suspected by respondents. Thus, human trafficking is certainly occurring in Iowa — and the extent to which it is occurring is likely underrepresented by these numbers.”
Globally, an estimated 25 million people are victims of human trafficking according to Polaris, which describes itself as a “leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery.”

The traffickers

Traffickers may be family members, juveniles, women and children in addition to men. Today’s media and music contribute to the problem, making the scourge of human trafficking socially acceptable, said the Clinton presenter, herself a survivor who requested anonymity from The Catholic Messenger.

The Polaris Project reports top recruitment tactics for sex trafficking as intimate partner/marriage proposition, familial, posing as a benefactor, job offer/advertisement and false promises/fraud. Top recruitment tactics for labor trafficking are job offer/advertisement, false promises/fraud, smuggling-related, coercion (threats/blackmail) and familial. (Go to www.polarisproject.org). The organization reports that human trafficking is “notoriously underreported.”

How to respond

The Lunch and Learn presenter encouraged participants to recognize signs of human trafficking, such as:
• The inability to come and go as the person wishes.
• Vagueness about jobs.
• Unable to speak for themselves.
• Lacking personal belongings.
• Lacking knowledge of one’s whereabouts.
• Consistently in possession of unexplained, expensive gifts.

Miller tells Iowans on his website (https://tinyurl.com/tf6xh74), “if you see something that doesn’t ‘look right,’ report it immediately.” Call local law enforcement at 911; victim services at the Iowa Helpline, 1-800-770-1650 or text IOWAHELP to 20121; or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

The Lunch and Learn presenter encouraged her audience to visit the Family Resources website at famres.org/services/survivor-services for additional information and to support proposed state legislation to help prevent human trafficking.

A Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputy in the audience said he has not personally been involved with a human trafficking case but has spoken with colleagues in Scott County who have. They spoke of victims being uncooperative, he said, perhaps because they don’t want to return to situation that caused them to fall prey to human trafficking in the first place.

January is National Human Traffic Awareness Month. Consider participating in the following events:

Jan. 16 – A presentation about federal efforts to thwart human trafficking, 7 p.m. in the Clinton County Administration Building, Conference Room B, 1900 N. 3rd St., Clinton. Mary Hogan, Community Relations Officer with Department of Homeland Security will speak. Previously, she worked in Victim/Witness services for almost 20 years. The public event is free.
Jan. 17 – Lunch and Learn presentation by Mary Hogan at the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce, 721 S. 2nd St., Clinton. There is no fee, but to register call (563) 242-7611. Mary will provide a brief overview of the work of the Department of Homeland Security with a focus on labor trafficking.
Jan. 24 – Lunch and Learn presentation by Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf at the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce. He will speak about addressing fear and how to employ personal safety tools. Specific resources will be discussed. Register by calling (563) 242-7611.
Jan. 26 — Attacking Trafficking, a Quad-City-based Anti-Trafficking organization, will hold its Fifth Annual Prayer Service to End Human Trafficking at 2 p.m. at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 3510 W. Central Park Road, Davenport. Open to the public. No reservations needed.
Jan. 31 – Lunch and Learn presentation by Ruth Buckels, LMSW, at the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce. She will discuss the state of human trafficking in Iowa using survivor stories. The stories told will help the listener to plan what they will do/ask/think when a victim-survivor is in front of them. Ruth is a child welfare and trafficking survivor advocate in Ames, Iowa. She is a licensed foster parent and has housed over 90 teens since 1988.
Jan. 31 – A special training session led by Ruth Buckels will be held at 2 p.m. at Mercy One in Clinton for hospital personnel, law enforcement, social services providers and other professionals. The session was developed by eight trafficking survivors who have had intensive medical contact while being victims and as survivors. They share examples of missed opportunities to get help and provide suggestions on how to detect a trafficking situation. For more information, call (563) 242-7611.
Also, during a Feb. 7 Lunch and Learn presentation, labor attorney Dorothy O’Brien will explain the steps that small business owners can take to ensure human trafficking is not present in one’s supply chain, locations and employment practices.

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