Human Trafficking: What Can We Do About It?

By Jose Fermoso It’s not enough to read about a human trafficking story on a Facebook news feed, have it stream through your concerned consciousness for two seconds, and then forget it. If you really want to be a conscious member of a community where anyone can fall prey to this crime, then you must actively understand and try to prevent it. This is what some of the country’s top anti-trafficking organizations believe about a situation that affects millions of people across the globe. The 3Strands Global Foundation, for example, has supported its mission of educating students to “understand and recognize trafficking” and create a generation less susceptible to victimization. From their perspective, it is more important for kids to hear messages of struggle and triumph when it comes to prevention than to pretend it’s not happening. And many communities are indeed pretending it’s not happening. For example, a report last year from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that many Northern California marijuana businesses are turning the other cheek when it comes to trafficking. The growing industry, which is now worth billions, has included growers who forced bud trimmers into performing unwanted sex acts and even locked teenagers away who wouldn’t do them. To try to raise awareness, two California assembly members recently passed a law, the Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act, that “requires school districts to provide instruction on human trafficking.” The law passed with bipartisan support. We at HIP are also trying to encourage action and awareness on this issue so we’ve talked to experts about the best prevention strategies people should use. Some of their ideas are below.

1. Education is the best prevention strategy

Bibiana Ferraiuoli, the executive director of the Ricky Martin Foundation, which works to combat human trafficking through education, says peer education in particular is very important. This means teenagers teaching each other in school and migrants looking out for each other. “As soon as [kids] talk about human slavery and their basic human rights, the peer-to-peer empowerment they can have is amazingly infinite. In Puerto Rico, there is a national awareness month where our organization brings modern-day abolitionists into schools to teach about their rights,” Bibiana said in an interview. Sienna Baskin, from Neo Philanthropy, says that when it comes to educating people about trafficking, it’s also good to start by learning about the larger social, economic, and labor systems that create it. One example she mentions when teaching others about it is the process through which greedy, minimal-cost hiring decisions can lead to unjust compensation. “We need to know that many of the products we use and eat are the product of someone’s cheap labor, and those systems that create it are the systems that create human trafficking. [That’s a type of educational issue] that is compelling.” Some of the systems people need to learn about beyond those of labor include the intimidating nature of the lucrative drug industry and how long-standing gender dynamics can force people into a trafficking situation.

2. A more cohesive effort among law and order is still needed

Everyone we talked to said an alliance between national, state, and local authorities is important because it helps build a common understanding of a complex crime and facilitates a coordinated response that avoids revictimization. Unfortunately, that alliance is still not completely ideal. Ferraiuoli says that federal agents who work with trafficking survivors often have a hard time getting specific evidence for cases because of the power dynamic between victims and agents. “It’s almost like working with someone who’s dead because they’re afraid of what to say. Their family’s life could be at risk.” And many trafficking victims come from a place where authorities can’t be trusted to keep their secrets and may even deliver them to further abuse, she describes. Then there’s the lack of connection between authorities and health care providers. The latter can help determine, through physical and psychological analysis, whether a person has been abused and trafficked and yet, law enforcement agencies can fail to reach out to them in some cases or just don’t have a proper protocol to do so. Coordination between agencies is also incredibly important because getting out clear, fact-based information in the moments after a trafficking incident could save someone’s life. In fact, experts said this is why the first three hours after a trafficking attempt are the most important and why Amber Alerts exist. Ferraiuoli tells us communities should alert law enforcement authorities within this time frame because traffickers and/or kidnappers can take anyone anywhere, including to other countries, within three hours.

3. There are trafficking clues you can discern

Human trafficking today is much more nuanced than we think. It’s not just women and girls locked up in foreign countries, like we’ve come to learn from surface-level media outlets or even movies. In fact, this crime is often right in front of our noses and in everyday situations. As as result, it’s important to be aware of what to look for when you suspect trafficking is occurring. In the same way that key details can be gleaned when sniffing out a potentially abusive relationship, they can also be found in trafficking. Ferraiuoli says the ones she sees most are physical bruises on the surface of the skin and seeing people falling asleep, either in class for children or in young adults who may be getting exploited at night through work. We can do our part in looking for signs of human trafficking. Here are a few things to watch out for:
  • Often traffickers speak on behalf of their victim. If a trafficker takes someone to a doctor or bank teller, for example, they might speak for them—thus giving them control over the situation and person.
  • If victims have been captive at any point, they may be sensitive to light.
  • Victims may also only pay with cash, be malnourished, have large debts that make no sense, suffer from poor mental health, act tense in unusual situations, and may even avoid eye contact consistently.
  • Ferraiuoli says a victim may not have “personal possessions and no control over identification documents, as well as not being aware of the time of day or their whereabouts.”

4. It requires proactive action by the community

Since human trafficking can happen anywhere, it’s important for people everywhere to speak out if they see potential victims. But any information tip on trafficking needs to be carefully determined—authorities dealing with these cases, our experts said, tend to lose trust in the effectiveness of their tippers if they reach out in false situations. Ferraiuoli recommends that if you think someone is being trafficked, you should first contact one of many service providers in your local area. The national organization Polaris, for example, runs a human trafficking hotline. If you or someone you know is suffering from human trafficking or may have a tip, call 1-888-373-7888. An anti-trafficking advocate is always available to talk, 24/7. Polaris says all calls are confidential and people may remain anonymous. Interpreters are also available in many languages. So now there are no excuses. Commit to helping bring human trafficking out of the shadows. Be vigilant, report anything suspicious, and talk about the issue with your family and friends. You can also help support nonprofits organizations working tirelessly to combat human trafficking with our HIPGive campaign, STRONGER TOGETHER | NO + TRATA.