Human Trafficking – Look Beneath the Surface

More than 20.9 million people worldwide, including children and adults, are trafficked – trapped in a modern-day form of slavery – each year, per estimates from the International Labour Organization. And it happens here at home. Illinois is a point of origin, transit and destination for many victims, and is also a safety point for those who are running away from trafficking experiences in other states.

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and Metropolitan’s Human Trafficking Initiative is working locally to help people recognize trafficking’s signs and get help to victims. The Human Trafficking Initiative is the collaboration of the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services (LAS), volunteer law firms and community groups to provide free legal services to human trafficking survivors who face legal problems stemming from their exploitation.

Human trafficking is the exploitation of a person, for the purpose of forced labor or a commercial sex act, through the use of force, fraud or coercion. Though physical force can be used, victims are often manipulated mentally and emotionally – such as through threats, lies and isolation – making it difficult to leave without fear of harm or retaliation. Anyone can be a trafficking victim, regardless of age, sex or citizenship. A person may be trafficked by a stranger, employer, friend/acquaintance, by his or her own partner, spouse, parent or relative.

Some who are trafficked are forced to work in prostitution, pornography or exotic dancing. But many are exploited for their labor. Some examples of places where labor trafficking happens include restaurants and factories, nail and hair salons, cleaning services and hotels. It can take place in any industry that makes a profit. Those who are undocumented and those with work visas can be trafficked.

Human trafficking is often a “hidden crime,” so people and organizations such as the Human Trafficking Initiative who aid trafficked individuals rely largely on community members to be their eyes and ears. To help people recognize trafficking’s signs, the Initiative provides group training for community organizations, law enforcement and others. Such awareness is the first step in getting help to those who are being trafficked

Free help is available for trafficking victims regardless of immigration status, including legal assistance, housing, health care, food, income, employment, and immigration. A humanitarian visa called the T-visa is available for foreign-born trafficking survivors.

Following are tips on how to identify trafficking victims:

There are telltale signs that someone may be a trafficked individual. Some indicators include:

Behavior

  • Afraid to talk/intimidated
  • Shows signs that their movement is being controlled
  • Acts as if under another’s instructions
  • Tense/anxious especially regarding law enforcement
  • Unable to tell where s/he lives
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Numerous inconsistencies in story

Appearance

  • Shows signs of abuse, restraint or torture
  • Has injuries
  • Under 18 + provides sex acts
  • Lacks health care
  • Looks malnourished / given only leftovers to eat
  • May look disheveled
  • Has few/no personal possessions
  • Not in control of own money
  • Not in control of own documents
  • Depends on employer for many things, including work, transportation and accommodation

Surrounding Circumstances

  • Not free to come and go as s/he pleases
  • Unpaid/paid less than agreed to
  • Works excessively long hours
  • Owes a large debt
  • Recruited through false promises
  • High security measures in the work or living location

If you think you know someone who may be trafficked or have questions, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888. It is confidential, toll free, available 24 hours/7 days a week, with interpreters. The hotline will help assess whether there is a trafficking situation, identify local resources to help the trafficking survivor, and coordinate with local social service organizations including Metropolitan Family Services, to help protect and serve trafficking survivors. Learn more at www.traffickingresourcecenter.org.

About the Human Trafficking Initiative and the Legal Aid Society
The Human Trafficking Initiative is the collaboration of the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services (LAS), volunteer law firms and community groups to provide free legal services to survivors of human trafficking who face legal problems stemming from their exploitation. LAS has relationships with a number of exceptional law firms in the Chicago area, who as a part of this program, have agreed to volunteer their skills, expertise and resources and co-counsel cases with LAS to represent survivors of human trafficking.

The Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services (LAS) pioneered the concept of equal access to justice more than 125 years ago. LAS provides critical legal services to low-income families in the Chicago area, protecting them in cases of domestic violence, elder abuse, housing and consumer issues, and human trafficking. Today LAS serves more than 9,000 families and individuals each year.

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