Last month was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The trouble is, what does human trafficking look like? Most people think of pimps trafficking young women for sex on street corners, or construction or factory workers forced to work long hours for little or no pay. But it is not always easy — in fact it can be very difficult — to spot a victim of this form of modern slavery.
Law enforcement officials tell us that traffickers prey on the vulnerable among us: people who are poor, uneducated, or who are hooked on drugs, runaways, or people who are desperate in some way. Worst of all, they prey on children.
The Polaris Project, which runs the national human trafficking hotline, reports that traffickers lure child sex trafficking victims via text now more than in person. Yep. They can get to your child through her or his phone, or through one of their social media outlets. They just start a conversation and it goes from there: “You are so pretty. You should be a model. I’m a photographer…”
The experts say to look for these signs that a young person may be being trafficked: physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts; unexplained absences from class or overly tired in class; sexualized behavior (especially in younger children); being withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out; suddenly bragging about making or having lots of money; less appropriately dressed than before or new expensive clothes, accessories or shoes; a new tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims); an older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle; or talking about wild parties or inviting other students to parties.
The non-profit organization DoSomething.org reports that in 2018, over half the criminal human trafficking cases active in the U.S. were sex trafficking cases involving only children.
Signs that an adult is being trafficked can range from someone who is never left alone, to someone who is not allowed to speak for herself or himself, someone whose passport has been taken from them, someone not allowed to come or go as they please; or a workplace where you never see the workers leave.
Trafficking can happen in a karaoke bar, as was the case with Blue House karaoke lounge that also operated as a brothel some years ago on Guam. But it can also happen out of a home in your neighborhood, right under your nose.
We really don’t know how many cases are out there. We do know that where there is prostitution and drug abuse, there is the potential for trafficking. Trafficking can also happen where foreign workers are used on construction projects. Guam, like many places, checks all three boxes.
I am a member of Guam’s Human Trafficking Task Force, led by the Office of the Attorney General. Last month the task force launched a “Stop the Evil” campaign, to bring about awareness of the crime of human trafficking — either for labor or for sex — on Guam.
The public service announcements generated for this campaign tell us that sex trafficking can happen in bars, hotels, and even in home — someone being forced to babysit, or clean house, and never allowed to leave or have a day off.
The main thing to do is be observant. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t. If you suspect that someone is being trafficked for either labor or sex, it is important to tell someone. Call 475-0400. That’s the Marianas Regional Fusion Center. They will channel the call to the proper authorities. Your doing so might save someone’s life.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.