Susan K. Stern, said it best: “We need people to know this is going on, and we need trained people in our congregations, Federations, and agencies at all levels, to identify signs of trafficking… Most of us were not aware that this was impacting our own communities, but the issue is serious and widespread. Human trafficking is not only happening to foreign nationals. It’s happening to kids in our own communities.” (Department of the State, 2014)
While many Americans are familiar with the terms “human trafficking,” most of us don’t realize that modern slavery isn’t just a global problem in some foreign country–trafficking is a growing problem in all of America’s communities. Adults and children, men and women, through force, fraud, and coercion are used for labor, commercial sex, or both. Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry, surpassing the illegal sale of arms as the third largest criminal enterprise in the world (FBI, 2017). In this series, you’ll learn what human trafficking is, how to identify it, and how your organization can be a hero and join the fight to end Human Trafficking.
To learn more about Human Trafficking, I interviewed Tracie Klinke, a nationally recognized expert in human trafficking and immigration attorney. Ms. Klinke has been recognized by Best Lawyers of America, rated by Super Lawyers as a Rising Star, and is currently a board member of the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network.
DAWN: Ms. Klinke, what is trafficking?
TRACIE: Human trafficking is about coercion, fear, and limiting somebody’s ability to move freely. People are tricked, blackmailed, and forced through violence to provide labor and sex for free, for less than was promised, or for less than is reasonable.
DAWN: Ms. Klinke, what’s the one thing you’d like business leaders to know about Human Trafficking?
TRACIE: I think from the start, it's important to know that it's more common than most of us know. It's hiding right under our noses and we don't often know what to look for. It's not a truck full of undocumented workers or a pimp bringing underage girls into the sex industry from Central America. Human trafficking goes beyond these common notions (though both scenarios do certainly occur in real life).
Human trafficking is the nanny who is forced to work 18 hour days and is never out of the sight of her employer; it's the housecleaner who had her employer take away her passport and told her if she talks to anyone about how she sleeps on the floor she'll be deported; it's the agricultural worker who was told he'd earn minimum wage, but instead makes $10.00 a day for ten hours of back-breaking work then has to spend $5.00 to pay for “room and board.”
So, I would say it's important for leaders to recognize that trafficking does exist and it's not something that happens only in poor neighborhoods, big cities, or to a certain type of person. It happens everywhere and could happen to most anyone.
DAWN: There’s a national controversy about immigration right now. As an immigration attorney, how does your work relate to Human Trafficking?
TRACIE: Immigration status is often used as a tool to threaten, intimidate, and control victims. For example, I have a case where a woman, let’s call her Lang, borrowed money from a friend’s friend, to open a café. The “friend” was essentially a loan shark—the interest rate and payment schedule were intentionally designed to make the debt impossible to payoff. When Lang defaulted, the “friend” suggested she go to America to work and payoff the debt. He said he could get her a job in a restaurant waiting tables. When Lang arrived in America, she was forced to be a prostitute or face deportation, where the loan shark would be waiting for her.
Over the next two years, Lang was shuttled around the country, forced to service several customers on any given day. Her debts accumulated and she grew numb. In her own words:
- “I recall my first time I had to service a client. I felt very miserable and wanted to die. I couldn’t believe I was selling myself for $200 and I felt pathetic and worthless. I cried all night after my first night of work.”
- “I had given up all hope regarding my life …”
- “Sally would charge us for everything at the facility. She would charge for the condoms we used, the food we ate and any incidental expenses. I was expected to be ready at all times of the day to work.”
DN: Is there anything business leaders can do to help?
TK: Absolutely! Large corporations can be vigilant about monitoring their supply chains, large and small business owners can ensure that their businesses aren’t used to facilitate trafficking, and all business leaders can help victims become survivors.
According to a 2014 International Labour Organization (ILO) estimate, $150 billion in illegal profits is generated each year through forced labor. Abuses may be found in any part of the supply chain, and, unless we lead the effort, selling people for profit will just become more profitable. In upcoming articles, you’ll learn concrete strategies to monitor and protect your supply chains, how local businesses can deter trafficking, and how to help victims become survivors.