Awareness is Key to Combating Human Trafficking

In August 2008 a woman sat in a York County nail salon and listened as a Vietnamese woman gave her a manicure. The customer felt something wasn’t right. Indeed, something was wrong, according to William Walker, assistant special agent in charge at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. The manicurist was a modern-day slave. By December 2008, a federal grand jury indicted the shop owner as part of an investigation into human trafficking – all because of one observant customer at the nail salon who was aware enough to alert authorities, Walker said.

Awareness across the United States is the major line of defense to protect people from becoming victims, and communities from the quality-of-life, forced labor and prostitution issues that human trafficking poses.

Walker said Homeland Security Investigations takes a balanced approach to human trafficking. While it’s important to identify, arrest and prosecute traffickers, it’s “equally important to recognize the victims,” who need help to start their lives over again. The agency works with nonprofit organizations to answer victims’ short-term needs such as housing, money and counseling. Identified victims can be granted continued presence, a status that allows them to stay in the United States, or a non-immigrant visa specifically created for trafficking victims that allows them to stay in the country for four years. After those four years, they are allowed to leave the country or can apply to become a permanent resident.

Indicators you’ve encountered a victim of human trafficking, according to Homeland Security Investigations:

  • Does the person possess identification and travel documents? If not, where are they?
  • Did the person travel to a destination country for a specific job or purpose and is the person engaged in different employment than they expected?
  • Is the person forced to perform sexual acts as part of employment?
  • Is the victim a juvenile engaged in commercial sex?
  • Does the victim owe money to an employer or does the employer hold wages?
  • Did the employer instruct the victim on what to say to law enforcement or immigration officials?
  • Can the victim freely leave employment or the situation?
  • Are there guards at work/harboring site or video cameras to monitor and ensure no one escapes?
  • Does the victim have freedom of movement? Can they freely contact family and friends? Can they socialize or attend religious services?

Warning signs of trafficking include someone causing undue or excess control over another person. Anonymous tips can be submitted to the agency at 1-866-DHS-2ICE or at HSI Tip Form. Every tip is investigated, Walker said, because in human trafficking cases “time is of the essence.”

Learn more at Amanda Christman’s Standard Speaker article: Officer: Awareness key to combatting human trafficking.


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