Awareness and Legal Action Needed

When she was 17 years old, Ima Matul was trafficked from Indonesia into the United States for what she thought was to be a position as a nanny in Los Angeles with a $150 monthly salary. When she arrived in America, she was forced into 18-hour workdays, seven days a week, taking care of the woman’s home and children. “My trafficker did not pay me,” Matul said. “I was working for a salary that did not exist.”

After three years of forced labor and abuse, Matul built the courage to escape and was taken to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) in Los Angeles, where she was able to take shelter from her trafficker. She now works encouraging other victims to realize their own strength to try to escape their circumstances. Many victims of human trafficking, like Matul, knew little about the issue before they were trafficked themselves, or even that they are trafficking victims.

The Mary Magdalene Project (MMP) is a 32-year-old nonprofit organization located in Van Nuys, Calif., that provides services to victims of prostitution and sex trafficking, including a residential treatment program, a drop-in center, transitional living program, family reunification program and emergency intervention support services. Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and Outreach Coordinator Donna Sarullo said, “The women we see in this program are often romanced into prostitution. They’re manipulated by their traffickers because they’re in love with them. More educational programs are necessary. If girls can understand traffickers’ tactics then we can hopefully prevent them from becoming victims. Prevention is key. Education is key.”

University of Southern California student Michelle Lau is the founder and co-president of World Vision ACTS, a student organization that encourages political activism to raise awareness about social issues.  “The lack of awareness among Americans about the issue makes it hard for them to connect and empathize with the victims,” Lau said. “Awareness is the first step. It might not guide them directly to action but the more people talk about it, the more it will lead to people doing something about the issue.”

Meanwhile, advocates are hoping for more extensive legal action to combat and prevent human trafficking and support victims in America, including the reauthorization of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, which provided tools to combat trafficking in persons and assisted in the coordination of anti-trafficking efforts worldwide and domestically. “The lack of resources is staggering,” Sarullo said. “There are not many places for these victims to go, especially in the Los Angeles area.”

“People need to be educated from a young age, especially because social media is being used to recruit victims and almost everyone uses social media,” Matul said. “Any social media user could be a target.” Research Director and Deputy Managing Director Mark Latonero at the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy conducted research on the role of social networking sites and online classifieds in human trafficking. “What we found through our research is that sites that we use every day have been used for trafficking such as social networking sites and blogging sites,” Latonero said. “For example, we discovered cases of traffickers using sites like Twitter to brag about how they exploited minors, and others using Facebook and online classifieds to recruit and advertise.”

Nevertheless, Latonero said that administrators of these sites that are being abused by traffickers are taking it upon themselves to innovate around the issue. Latonero said that researchers and legislators could work to combat technology-facilitated trafficking with technology as well. Through his research, he concluded that authorities could analyze websites and mobile phones to extract information on traffickers in order to prosecute them, to monitor potential cases of trafficking and to spread awareness of the issue through social media. In addition, technology can be used to create a support network of trafficking victims and survivors, like that instituted by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline.

“With any sort of technology-based communication, a digital fingerprint is left behind,” Latonero said. “If there’s a problem with technology and trafficking, the solution to that problem lies in technology itself too.”

Learn more at Sarah Zahedi’s Neon Tommy article: Human Trafficking In U.S. Raises Calls For Awareness And Legal Action.

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