Categories for Awareness

The Link Between Human Trafficking and Armed Conflict

May 5, 2022

By Felisher Ongera (USCSAHT Student Intern)

Tensions have been brewing for months on end without a resolution in sight. For two months, it has become clear that there is little to no peace progress being made in the Russian-Ukraine crisis. Families are being torn apart and economic desperation is on the rise for the Ukrainian people and those around them. This crisis, however, is not the only conflict in sight. From civil wars and political unrest to terrorist insurgencies, there is a large number of countries currently experiencing armed conflict. As people lose their jobs and homes while fleeing these countries to seek refuge, human traffickers are on the prowl, searching for ways to exploit victims.

It is no secret that traffickers prey on victims in search of employment opportunities. Oftentimes, victims are lured in by the promises of a higher-paying job. With a decrease in the availability of social services at this time, many victims can fall prey to traffickers. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates an average of 40.3 million individuals are trapped in forced labor. Armed conflict only worsens this prevalence, increasing refugees’ vulnerability to human trafficking. These people are trapped and exposed to indentured servitude or debt bondage and forced to work with little to no payment all while facing psychological and physical abuse.

Labor trafficking is not the only form of human trafficking that is rampant as a result of armed conflict. Child labor is just as heinous and its risk is heightened during periods of armed conflict. To begin, the ILO defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to [their] physical and mental development.” Parents often are unable to provide for all of their young ones and with economic desperation on the rise, children join the workforce in order to lessen their families’ burden and provide additional support. Traffickers take advantage of this and exploit these children, promising to help and provide. Once taken, they are often overworked, underpaid, isolated, deprived of education, and physically and sexually abused. Not to mention that at times of conflict, there is a rise in the unlawful recruitment and use of children through force, fraud, or coercion—to be used as combatants or constrained to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. In addition to these child soldiers, the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report indicates that young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with commanders and male combatants. Therefore, it is essential we keep ourselves educated on the topic and keep in mind this increase in human trafficking in order to best learn how to assist in combatting both trafficking cases as well as providing humanitarian aid.

To learn more about the connection between armed conflict, labor, and child trafficking, read our Human Trafficking: Labor Trafficking education module and visit these websites:

Human Trafficking in Conflict Zones

Countries Currently At War 2022

2020 Trafficking in Persons Report

Documentary Made In Metro Detroit Focuses On Demand Of Human Trafficking

March 10, 2022

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A new movie about human trafficking made right here in metro Detroit has now been released to the public.

The movie called “Men Who Buy Sex” was made by the Wayne County Medical Society Foundation and Digital Media Works. It focuses on the demand side of human trafficking, hoping to bring an end to the epidemic.

The film may be new, but the problem is not. Sex trafficking has existed in metro Detroit for decades, and experts say it’s still happening every day.

“Absolutely, human trafficking is something that is happening every day,” said Amy Allen, a forensic interview specialist with Homeland Security Investigations. “We know there are lots of youth and women being trafficked every day here in the metro Detroit area.”

Allen is based out in metro Detroit and works with sex trafficking victims in the region. She says many of them report being trafficked up to 12 or 13 times a day to paying customers.

“The demand side of trafficking has really been something that hasn’t been talked about that much,” Allen said.

Read the full article by Brett Kast on WXYZ Detroit.

Beyond The Furrows: How Labor Trafficking Affects Farmworkers And What’s Being Done Locally

August 12, 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers helped the rest of us keep some semblance of order during the initial wave of uncertainty.

And farmworkers are included in that workforce; they’re how we get our food on the table.

So when the pandemic hit, Andrea Rojas saw an increase in calls from agricultural workers to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. She knew that increase made sense, because calls from other industries like hospitality and restaurants went down, while there was sustained demand for farmworkers.

“That was one of the few industries that remained working and operational during the pandemic, where most of the other sectors were completely shut down,” Rojas said.

Rojas is the strategic initiative director for labor trafficking at Polaris, which is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to combat sex and labor trafficking. Polaris also runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“And it’s very telling about some of the failures in the system to protect these workers, because in order for a foreign national to connect with a national resource — with a National Human Trafficking Hotline — requires multiple steps in order to make that call,” Rojas said.

According to hotline data provided by Polaris to KCBX, agricultural labor trafficking victims were found to have most commonly dealt with verbal abuse, overworking, wage theft, and threats to be reported to immigration — whether they’re undocumented workers or not.

Rojas said the historical basis for labor trafficking in agriculture is twofold: its historical reliance on slavery and its current reliance on migrant workers.

Read the full story by Francisco Matinez on KCBX FM.

Warning Girls About The Tactics Of Human Traffickers

August 3, 2021

As we, the Africa Faith and Justice Network-Nigeria walked into Government Girls Science Secondary School of Kuje, Abuja, in Nigeria, I felt we were at the right place to speak with a vulnerable group of young girls who might be future victims of human trafficking. I was happy that we were going to share with younger children information about the dangers of human trafficking. The school administration was also pleased to welcome us to speak with the students on how to avoid being trafficked, and to teach them to speak out when they notice unusual behaviors. There were about 200 girls, from grades 7-12.

It was interesting that — though the students already have some idea about what human trafficking is — they were surprised that perpetrators can be family members or friends of a family. I could see their innocence and fear when they realized that no one could be trusted, since family members too are potential perpetrators of human trafficking.

They were very attentive and active during the program. The students were eager to know more and share with their friends about what they learned about human trafficking and the tricks perpetrators use to lure their victims. Anyone can be a victim and/or an agent for perpetrators. This was highlighted in a short drama that I guided them to act. The drama shows that there are chains of traffickers linked together, waiting for an available opportunity to strike.

In order to educate and inform their consciences, I asked the students if they understood the core message of the drama and the ideas it was trying to get across. Their answers were affirmative and that gave me joy. In fact, understanding the message I tried to get across with the help of a short drama means that this group of students will be able to elude the tricks of traffickers.

Read the full story by Teresa Anybuike on Global Sisters Report.

U-M Nursing, Law Collaboration Aims To Dispel Myths About Human Trafficking

July 18, 2021

Most people have heard of human trafficking, but few can define it. Even experts in law enforcement and academia can have a hard time quantifying the problem.

The new Human Trafficking Collaborative website, developed by faculty at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and the U-M Law School, was created to dispel myths about human trafficking and to train health care providers to recognize and treat victims.

Michelle Munro-Kramer, the Suzanne Bellinger Feethan Professor of Nursing at the School of Nursing, and Bridgette Carr, an associate dean and director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the Law School, developed the project for those who would like to learn more about human trafficking. This forced or compelled service takes two primary forms: labor trafficking and sex trafficking.

In addition to the website, which launched this month, there is a continuing education module that meets state of Michigan training requirements for health care providers and videos documenting survivor and provider experiences.

The module is intended to help health care professionals identify and respond to survivors of human trafficking using a preplanned, comprehensive approach, so professionals know exactly what to do before a victim walks through the door, Munro-Kramer said.

There are also resources, such as sample screening policies and response procedures, that could be used at a health system level. Website content was informed by a statewide survey of federally qualified health centers, health departments and hospitals statewide.

“We know both from studies and from the experiences of my clients that health care providers are on the frontlines of combating human trafficking,” said Carr, whose law clinic provides free legal services for survivors of trafficking.

“My clients have shared how invisible they feel when they see a health care provider, and on the inside they are screaming for help but say nothing. This training is a tremendous opportunity for us to share our expertise with front-line health care workers in hopes of identifying more victims of human trafficking.”

Read the full story on University of Michigan News

Over Half Of Online Recruitment In Active Sex Trafficking Cases Last Year Occurred On Facebook, Report Says

July 8, 2021

The majority of online recruitment in active sex trafficking cases in the U.S. last year took place on Facebook, according to the Human Trafficking Institute’s 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report.

“The internet has become the dominant tool that traffickers use to recruit victims, and they often recruit them on a number of very common social networking websites,” Human Trafficking Institute CEO Victor Boutros said on CBSN Wednesday. “Facebook overwhelmingly is used by traffickers to recruit victims in active sex trafficking cases.”

Active cases include those in which defendants were charged in 2020, as well as those in which defendants were charged in previous years and charges were still pending in trial last year or the case was on appeal.

Data from the last two decades included in the human trafficking report showed that 30% of all victims identified in federal sex trafficking cases since 2000 were recruited online.

In 2020 in the U.S., 59% of online recruitment of identified victims in active cases took place on Facebook alone. The report also states that 65% of identified child sex trafficking victims recruited on social media were recruited through Facebook.

The tech giant responded to the report’s findings in a statement to CBS News: “Sex trafficking and child exploitation are abhorrent and we don’t allow them on Facebook. We have policies and technology to prevent these types of abuses and take down any content that violates our rules.”

Read the full story by Elizabeth Elkind on CBS News.

Act Locally To Help Break The Chains Of Human Trafficking

July 6, 2021

Chains. People locked “together with the weight of an ox-chain in the beating sun forced to walk the distance to damnation” to the slave market. That’s a description from Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste, about enslaved people and a type of caste system in the 19th-20th century United States.

Chains. Twenty-first century, women and children bound and walking to another market, not so public but equally damning. The market of human trafficking is silent and difficult to see without a perceptive eye.

On April 18, the League of Women Voters of Litchfield County, Connecticut, and the Litchfield Historical Society presented a zoom lecture on human trafficking. It was given by Alicia Kinsman, a senior staff attorney with the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants and a staff attorney for Project Rescue, the institute’s anti-human-trafficking program.

On May 1, a workshop on how to recognize human trafficking and what the public can do was given at the Wisdom House Retreat and Conference Center in Litchfield. It was co-sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony Project of Torrington, Connecticut, and the Litchfield County League of Women Voters. The program, using stories, statistics and videos, was eye-opening.

How did these two programs come about? It all started with the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita in February 2021. Congregations of religious sisters around the world were raising awareness of Human Trafficking and asking for prayers for the end of this tragedy.

I was also reading Pope Francis’ book Let Us Dream, where he encourages us to “see, judge, act,” which, in his words, are “contemplate, discern, propose.” I started looking for places where prayers were being complemented with action.

An informal conversation with a local friend led me to the human trafficking workshop of the Susan B. Anthony Project. Another conversation with Lynn Campbell, executive director of the Hartford Archdiocese’s Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry led me to Amirah.

I contacted Amirah, an interfaith nonprofit organization that provides “refuge to those seeking to break free from exploitation and heal in community on their journey toward lasting hope.” In this agency, I found what I was looking for, namely, an action to support trafficked persons. Amirah provides aftercare for women who have survived sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Amirah’s safe homes for long-term recovery are in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Read the full story by Rosemarie Greco on Global Sisters Report.

Experts: Pandemic Likely Led To Increase In Child Sex Trafficking

June 10, 2021

MILWAUKEE —Sex trafficking of children has likely increased since the pandemic started, according to law enforcement and community advocates.

Keeping kids home during the pandemic was meant to protect them.

However, it led to a huge jump in time spent online and for vulnerable minors, a downward spiral.

“A lot of our victims meet their traffickers on social media,” said Detective Rodney Gonzales. Gonzales is a detective with Milwaukee Police Department’s sensitive crimes unit and has been with MPD for 24 years. “About half of my victims are juveniles and I’ve had human trafficking victims as young as 12, 13.”

WISN 12 News investigated the number of reported cases.

According to MPD, the number of reported cases in sex trafficking of minors decreased in 2020, from 30 reported cases in 2019 to 17 reported cases last year.

However, Gonzales and his partner, Detective Anna Ojdana, said those statistics don’t tell the full story.

“I think all the numbers are underreported. We do see a lot of crimes associated with human trafficking. For example homicides, batteries, domestic violence offenses,” Ojdana said. “Milwaukee is definitely a hub for sex trafficking. It’s easy access. Highways connect you to all the other states. We see a lot of people coming from Green Bay and Appleton. We see victims from Chicago and Minnesota.”

MPD, the Milwaukee U.S. Attorney’s Office and community advocates all told WISN 12 the pandemic has likely made sex trafficking of children worse.

Predators know teens are online all day and target minors on the same social media apps their peers use.

“It’s Snapchat, it’s Tagged, it’s Kik, it’s Facebook, it’s Instagram,” Ojdana said. “OnlyFans is included as well.”

Officials in the U.S. Attorney’s Office told WISN 12 predators target vulnerable kids and that a single predator often times sends messages out to a hundred different minors a day, saying anything to get their attention.

Since shelters and outreach programs temporarily closed during the pandemic, community
advocates said more under-supported teens likely fell into those traps.

Read the full story by Caroline Reinwald on WISN.

Campaign Aims To Keep Seafarers’ Livelihoods Afloat During Coronavirus Hardships

June 8, 2021

Invisible to those ashore yet instrumental in keeping afloat the comforts of daily life, seafarers have long seeped through the cracks as they straddle worlds and identities.

They have home countries but live literally adrift, becoming strangers to all nations. They play a role in 90% of global trade but are not typically considered essential workers. They are prone to abuse and exploitation but often fall just outside the realm of trafficking advocacy.

Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of these itinerant workers are also trapped.

For seafarers, who are responsible for delivering most food, medicine, electronics and even racehorses around the world, disembarking at most international ports has become an impossibility. The ship may be welcome, but to the community where it docks, members of the crew are perceived as potential carriers of COVID-19, even though they have typically been at sea for longer than the virus lasts.

“They’re sort of like prisoners, now more than ever,” said Sr. Mary Leahy, a Sister of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart who ministers to seafarers as the port chaplain for Stella Maris, Australia in Sydney.

The inability to get off ships means crew changes are less likely, so even when a seafarer’s contract expires after several months of labor, his or her tie to the job can get extended indefinitely. And because crews tend to be made up of individuals who come from poverty, their desperation for an income can be abused easily, as official complaints may leave them blacklisted from other jobs, Leahy said.

“It’s fertile ground for exploitation,” she said.

Since the plight of seafarers is distant to those on land, the international campaign Solidarity with Seafarers is bringing it to the fore, educating the public on the link between the products they buy and the people who deliver them as well as encouraging corporations to examine their suppliers’ human rights practices.

The campaign — a joint effort by Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human TraffickingStella Maris, and the Apostleship of the Sea of the United States — has its eye on one particular whale of a retailer: Walmart.

Petitioning for Walmart to sign the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change is the campaign’s ultimate concrete goal. The international pact, which over 800 companies have already signed, would help recognize seafarers as essential workers, give them priority access to COVID-19 vaccines, and establish better protocols to ensure timely crew changes, said Jennifer Reyes Lay, executive director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, which organized the petition.

Because Walmart has previously demonstrated a proactive interest in addressing forced labor practices in its supply chains, Reyes Lay said, this push for Walmart to include seafarers in that commitment is as possible as it would be impactful.

“It’s modern slavery … and companies that import stuff should be able to prove there’s no slavery in the chain,” Leahy said.

Read the full story by Soli Salgadoon Global Sisters Report

Out On The High Seas, When News Happens No One Sees it

May 23, 2021

About 100 miles off the coast of Thailand, three dozen Cambodian boys and men worked barefoot all day and into the night on the deck of a purse seiner fishing ship. Fifteen-foot swells climbed the sides of the vessel, clipping the crew below the knees. Ocean spray and fish innards made the floor skating-rink slippery.

Seesawing erratically from the rough seas and gale winds, the deck was an obstacle course of jagged tackle, spinning winches and tall stacks of 500-pound nets. Rain or shine, shifts ran 18 to 20 hours. At night, the crew cast their nets when the small silver fish they target — mostly jack mackerel and herring — were more reflective and easier to spot in darker waters.

This was a brutal place, one that I’ve spent the past several years exploring. Fishing boats on the South China Sea, especially in the Thai fleet, had for years been notorious for using so-called sea slaves, mostly migrants forced offshore by debt or duress.

Two-thirds of the planet is covered by water and much of that space is ungoverned. Human rights, labor and environmental crimes occur often and with impunity because the oceans are vast. What laws exist are difficult to enforce.

Arguably the most important factor, though, is that the global public is woefully unaware of what happens offshore. Reporting about and from this realm is rare. As a result, landlubbers have little idea of how reliant they are on the sea or the more than 50 million people who work out there.

Forced labor on fishing ships is not the only human rights concern. Hundreds of stowaways and migrants are killed at sea annually. A multibillion-dollar private security industry operates at sea, and when these mercenary forces kill, governments rarely respond because no country holds jurisdiction in international waters. Somewhere in the world, at least one ship sinks every three days, which is part of the reason that fishing is routinely ranked as among the deadliest professions.

And then there’s the environmental crisis. Oil spills aren’t the worst of it. Every three years, ships intentionally dump more oil and sludge into the oceans than the Exxon Valdez and BP spills combined. Acidification is damaging most of the world’s coral reefs.

Read the full story by Ian Urbina on The Ocean Outlaw Project.