Irvine is among the safest cities in America. Yet even here in Irvine, where crime statistics are extremely low, others are forced to labor against their will. We need to be alert for those who live and work among us and are enslaved. To recognize and stop it, we will need to look beneath the surface.
Here are some disturbing facts about human trafficking:
- Human trafficking is a term for a modern form of slavery. It is a criminal human rights violation.
- All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom.
- There are more slaves today than at any time in human history.
- 20.9 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking.
- Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, second only to drug trafficking.
- The world-wide business of human trafficking brings in an estimated $150 billion a year.
- According to the U.S. State Department, approximately two million women and children are victims of human trafficking every year.
- Half of human trafficking victims are younger than 16 years old.
Human trafficking is taking place right before our eyes, in our own communities and places of business. It occurs in our office buildings, malls, restaurants, and hotels, as well as in residential brothels and street-based commercial sex establishments.
In most cases, human trafficking is hidden in plain sight – disguised by being right out in the open, masquerading as a legitimate business, such as a nail salon or janitorial company.
Unless we know what to look for, we will probably not even see it.
In the area of sex-based slavery, businesses appear and disappear overnight. Customers seeking their services find them on internet chat rooms. Women held captive in these businesses are moved frequently between locations and cities. Traffickers do not want the women to learn too much about their location or to have relationships with customers or others who could help them escape. Too often, victims of sex trafficking do not even know that we would consider them to be victims of a crime.
Labor traffickers use individuals to perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Labor trafficking includes situations of debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor. Often the victims of human trafficking owe large debts they are unable to pay it off, or were recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work. People are promised immigration, documentation, education, a career, and then are forced into slave labor or debt bondage and kept isolated and beaten, with no identification, and are told that they will be punished or imprisoned by legal authorities rather than helped.
Traffickers most often prey on the most vulnerable, the undocumented, and on non-English speakers. But traffickers prey on all nationalities, including native-born American.
Victims and their captors are often from the same ethnic group and might even know each other’s families, so the threat of violence against relatives at home is used to control them.
We can stop human trafficking by knowing what to look for and then reporting our observations to local authorities or the National Hotline at 888-373-7888.
At the airport, look for travelers who are not dressed appropriately for the weather or who have few or no personal items, are less well dressed than their companions, or wearing clothes that are the wrong size; have a tattoo of a bar code, or the word “Daddy,” or man’s name; cannot provide details of their departure location, destination, or flight information.
Also look for travelers whose communication seems scripted, or who appear to be unable to move around freely, or appear to be controlled, closely watched or followed; who appear afraid to discuss themselves around others, deferring any attempts at conversation to someone who appears to be controlling them.
In regard to children, look for those who are dressed in a sexualized manner, or seem to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are malnourished or show signs of physical or sexual abuse, such as bruises, scars, or cigarette burns.
In our communities and neighborhoods, look for those who appear not to be free to leave or to come and go as he/she wishes; are unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips.
Also look for those who work excessively long and/or unusual hours; are not allowed breaks or who suffer under unusual restrictions at work; whose work or living conditions involve high security measures, such as opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, or security cameras.
We should also be alert for persons living or working in our communities who avoid eye contact, or appear to be fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous or paranoid; or who exhibit unusually fearful or anxious behavior regarding law enforcement.
We need to be on the alert for people living or working in our community who appear not to be in control of his/her own money, with no financial records or bank account; who are not in control of their own identification documents (ID or passport); are not allowed or able to speak for themselves; who cannot explain or state where they live; or who appear not to know basic facts about the city or community where they are living.
Poor physical health can also be an indication of human trafficking. We should be alert for people living or working in our community who appear to lack medical care or appear to be malnourished or shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or exposure to harmful chemicals.
With two million victims every year and $150 billion in illicit profits, law enforcement cannot stop it alone. Everyone one of us needs to be alert to human trafficking and ready to inform the proper authorities whenever they suspect that someone they know or see is a human trafficking victim.
Human trafficking is a global problem, but we can be a crucial part of a local solution.
Irvine is a community that cares and together we can make a difference.