1 – What is Human Trafficking?

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Learn what human trafficking is so that you can begin to study this issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending it. Sandra Morgan, the Director of the Global Center for Women and Justice, and Dave Stachowiak, a GCWJ board member, discuss “What is human trafficking?” They explain the elements of human trafficking and examples through stories of both men and women who were coerced into modern-day slavery.

Key Points

  • Modern-day slavery includes three main elements: force, fraud, and coercion.
  • Human Trafficking can be in any community and socio-economic class, as exemplified by these stories of modern-day slavery.
  • Forms of human trafficking include sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and debt bondage.
  • The Global Center for Women and Justice gives a framework and a place to educate, research, and teach students and the community to be an advocate for change.


[Note from the Ending Human Trafficking podcast team: This episode was recorded in 2011 so the contact information provided is no longer accurate. Please refer to gcwj.org for the correct contact information.]

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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, this is episode number one recorded in April 2011. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, my name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandra [00:00:30] And my name is Sandra Morgan.

Dave [00:00:33] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking.

Sandra [00:00:42] Dave, those are the goals of the Global Center for Women and Justice. And I’m the director for the Global Center for Women and Justice. And human trafficking is a major issue that our students at Vanguard University are really interested in.

Dave [00:00:56] And I am really excited to be doing this show with you. And I’ve actually been looking forward to it all week, Sandie. We’re recording this on a Friday morning and I’ve been looking forward to this all week because, how long have we known each other now? Probably three or four years?

Sandra [00:01:13] Yeah, at least.

Dave [00:01:14] And ever since I met you, I have wanted to get involved with doing something with human trafficking and helping raise awareness about the issue. And I didn’t really know how and didn’t really know how to get involved. And I’ve been excited about this all week because this is a great way to get the message out about what’s going on with this issue and helping really empower people with the right information. So I am so excited to be a part of it and I’m glad that we are jumping into this.

Sandra [00:01:47] Well, and that reminds me that almost every week I either get a phone call, an email, or someone walking into my office and they sit down and they say, I don’t know what to do, but I want to help end human trafficking. How do we start? What do we do? And that’s what I really love about the Global Center for Women and Justice, is it gives us a framework, a place to educate, to do research, to teach our students and our community how to be good advocates for change.

Dave [00:02:22] Well, we are planning to do whatever we can to be advocates for change as well. And this show is our plan, at least initially here, is to make this a biweekly show. And so we’ll be coming to you twice a month with information on how you can play a role in really ending human trafficking. And we’re going to be talking about the issues. We’re going to study them and then hopefully give you the right tools to go out and actually be informed about making a difference. And so, Sandie, would you start off, first of all, and just give us a little background on what is the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard and a little bit about the center that you direct.

Sandra [00:03:02] The Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University has been around for just a few years. It’s a rather new approach to equipping our students. We oversee a women’s studies minor and we encourage our students to do research and to do applied theory in the approach towards justice work in our community. There are so many big justice issues and they’re in the media and they grab your heart and sometimes your purse strings, too. And um, but we want to do things that are sustainable, that are best practice, that are going to make long term change possible. And we believe that this generation, equipping this generation is a goal and a practical way to accomplish that goal.

Dave [00:04:00] Well, we’re going to jump right in then and talk about our topic today, which is what is human trafficking and really getting some some good information about the issue and educating our audience. And you really Sandie are an expert in this area in so many ways. And one of the reasons I’m so glad to be doing the show with you is to learn more about human trafficking. And by the way, if you would like to learn about human trafficking as well, or you have questions for us as you’re listening to the show, there’s two ways you can reach out to us. And that way we can get back to you and even include your question on a future show. One way is to reach us by phone. And that number is 714-556-3610 and then extension 2242. That will take you right to the center where you can leave us a message and you can also send a question or comment to our email address. That’s gcwj@vanguard.edu. So again, gcwj@vanguard.edu for Global Center for Women and Justice.

Sandra [00:05:06] And we have a website, Dave.

Dave [00:05:08] Ah, I forgot.

Sandra [00:05:09] GCWJ.vanguard.edu. And there’s excellent resources and links to best practices on human trafficking. And I think one of the things that I really appreciate about this venue is the opportunity for us to take a few minutes and study the issues before we decide what we’re going to do. Modern-day slavery, which is what we often hear in the media, is the term that raises pictures in our minds of people in chains and tied together by ropes and forced onto boats to be shipped to the U.S. or another Western country to serve those who have the power. But modern-day slavery doesn’t look like that. Modern-day slavery has invisible chains. Modern-day slavery is about coercion and fraud, as well as force. And so what we see in the global, federal, and state laws is a three part perspective on what are the elements of human trafficking, of modern-day slavery. And those three elements are force, fraud, and coercion. So force, that would be the typical image that you have, that someone’s kidnapping you, putting you in a van and driving you away to force you to work in some kind of labor camp, or placing you in a brothel as a commercial sexual worker. Fraud is–

Dave [00:06:51] And force, force is a lot of times what I think people think of when they think of slavery or they think of, you know, isn’t it?

Sandra [00:07:01] Yeah, I think that’s what we do think of. We think of it as, for instance, there are popular movies that really play off of the force aspect. Someone’s kidnapping, and they’re screaming, and there’s furniture being knocked around. But if you’re a criminal, you want to leave as little evidence as possible. So you’re going to look for ways not to be noticed. You’re going to look for ways to control people that does not involve force. Which is why fraud and coercion are the main elements of human trafficking that we see in the 21st century.

Dave [00:07:35] Oh, interesting.

Sandra [00:07:36] Let me tell you a story about a young woman that I met when I was living in Greece. I was volunteering at the Doctors of the World Shelter in Athens. This girl was from the former Soviet Union, from Ukraine. She graduated from high school when she was 17. We’ll just call her Maria to keep her identity anonymous. And so she’s 17 years old. She graduates at the top of her class. She’s really smart. Her dad had died in one of the conflicts and her mother and her eight-year-old brother were counting on Maria to get a job to support them. But the economy had collapsed in the former Soviet Union. There were no jobs. There were no young men. You couldn’t even follow the path of get married and somebody else will support me. So she was looking for jobs. She read the paper. And when she saw an ad for interviews in the big city not far away, she made the plan to go and stand in line and interview for those jobs. And those jobs were in Athens, Greece in the tourist industry. So she and her best friend took the bus to the big city on the appointed day and stood in line with dozens and dozens and dozens of other desperate young women looking for options to get out. She filled out a job application. And what kind of information do you put on a job application, Dave?

Dave [00:08:58] Oh, gosh. Name, address, employment history. Just about, just about everything. All your, all your personal information. References.

Sandra [00:09:08] Everything, everything. And so she did that and it was not like it wasn’t like an ink jet printed job. It was bonafied. It looked good. At the end of the day, Maria was thrilled because she was one of the girls chosen for the job. She went home, told her mom, I have to come back in two weeks with all my documents, and then we’re leaving and I’m going to send half of the money to you and half I’m going to save to go to nursing school. On the appointed day, Maria came back, handed over her documents to the quote unquote travel coordinator, who was really a human trafficker, and got on the train with dreams and hopes for an amazing future. And when she got off the train, they were in a little town on the Turkish side of the Greek border and each girl was placed in a separate room in this dark little hotel. And Maria says that within just a few minutes after she’d laid down, her door burst open and four men dressed in police uniforms, not necessarily because they were law enforcement, but as part of the breaking down strategy, four men gang raped her. And all of her dreams evaporated. Before dawn the next morning, they took Maria downstairs. They duct taped her wrists, her ankles, and her mouth and placed her in the false bottom of a little car and drove her across the border into Greece where they were waiting for her and they took her to her first brothel, where she started work immediately. And she was sold over and over and over again every day for almost two years. When I met Maria, she was 19. There was no sparkle in her eye. There was no hope in her heart. She had a body wracked with medical problems. And really didn’t see a future. And I’ll never forget hearing this Ukrainian counselor translate for me and tell me that when they ask her, how did you survive? She said, my soul died. She completely had given up, she was numb, dead inside. Dissociative disorder is one of the common things we see post-trafficking in survivors. And so they ask, Well, how did you keep going? And she said, I had to. They knew where my eight-year-old brother lived and they said they would get him if I ran away. So Maria’s story to go back to those three elements of human trafficking that we’re looking for: force, fraud, coercion. We see they got Maria through a false job promise, and it looked really good. Then when they had her, they used force to break her will. They used force to bind her hands and her legs. And then they use coercion. They threatened her every day with threats against herself and then against her family. And when she no longer cared about her family, they kept reminding her, we know where your eight-year-old brother lives. And she did whatever they told her to do.

Dave [00:12:43] The, you know, there’s so many heartbreaking things about that story and for me, the thing that just resonates with me is how they get people into the process under such false pretenses. And people who have no no idea what they’re getting into and just wanting to create a better lives for themselves, make a choice to try and get a job and end up going down this path that they can’t get out of. And it’s such a, such a disheartening thing to hear.

Sandra [00:13:26] The traffickers sell hope. They sell hope. Here’s a job for you. You can improve your life. You can improve your family’s life. If you come to the West, we have jobs. And the idea that coming to the West will increase your opportunities. And think of Maria. She wanted to go to nursing school. Well, that isn’t going to happen when she finds herself working in a brothel.

Dave [00:13:54] I know one of the things that people will say sometimes is when someone has gotten into that situation of being in a brothel or being trafficked as well, why don’t they just leave? Why don’t they just get up and leave and do something else? They could make that choice. But often that really isn’t a choice for them.

Sandra [00:14:11] No. The, and this is the thing we see in our heads, in our mind’s eye, pictures of people with handcuffs and chains and ropes. But the real binding part of human trafficking is that coercion, the threats, the idea that that they’re going to harm you, but eventually that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s they’re going to harm someone in my family and that kind of coercion. Plus, they begin to change the way you think. And the victim begins to feel like they’re in a survival mode. And the techniques of, like in Maria’s case, they moved her from brothel to brothel every two weeks. And someone from a business perspective looks at that and says, well, they want to move around their product so that there’s variety in each location, which as awful as that sounds, that is true. But there’s another aspect of that movement. As long as you are never in the same place with and are able to make friends, you really don’t have the ability to create a strategy to escape. We keep people off balance by moving them. They don’t speak the language. They don’t know who to go to. And of course, they don’t trust law enforcement because that’s where the conditioning started at the very beginning.

Dave [00:15:35] And I know you make a distinction between human trafficking and smuggling. What is, what’s the difference between those two things?

Sandra [00:15:42] I think that’s especially important in the context of Southern California, because we live close to a border. And so it’s a, it seems like a very confusing issue. So let’s just tell the story and we’ll call this guy Jose. Jose is recruited from a village that has very little job opportunity. He has several children. One of his sons is very, very sick. The recruiter comes to the village and says, I have a job for you. You don’t need to speak English. It’s outside. And Jose says, well, I don’t have the money to get there. So he says, that’s OK, you’ll owe me. And so then they arrange the plan and they come into the United States and there’s the quote unquote smuggler, who is really a trafficker, has used that fraud aspect, that element of trafficking to lure Jose into this circumstance. Now, if Jose had made the arrangements, had initiated this and paid him the three thousand dollars or whatever it is this month to get across the border, he would be guilty of smuggling, which is a crime against the state. It’s a crime against immigration law. But what happened to Jose is the smuggler, the coyote, who is really a trafficker, is now in control of Jose because he owes him a debt. And so he doesn’t wash his hands of Jose at the border. He now puts him into a van and takes him to a worksite where Jose is working seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day. And at the end of the week, when Jose lines up to get his first pay check, which isn’t really a check because Jose can’t go to the bank and cash it, it’s actual cash and it may actually be on the table, but it’s next to a little black book, a ledger that says this is how much Jose owes the company. He owes the interest, which is very high interest, on his debt for coming across the border. He also owes for his lodging, even though it’s been sleeping on the floor. He owes for the meals he’s eaten. And by the time they take all of this away from the stack of money he has there, he may have a few dollars left, if he has anything. And he has nothing to send back to his family. And the second or third week, it finally begins to sink in that he has gotten himself, and this is their mindset, gotten himself into a horrible situation. But he doesn’t see himself as a victim. He usually sees himself as having made a very bad decision, which is true. But he was lured into it fraudulently. And now then he’s in debt bondage, which is one of the forms that human trafficking takes. And we see it all around us here. And these people, when they’re trapped like that, they don’t realize that anyone will help them. And so they don’t self-identify, they don’t say, please help me get out. So it’s really important in our community for us to know what to do when we see someone who doesn’t seem to be in control of their documents. Someone else is doing all the speaking. They seem to be with a group that they’re all going back to the same place. They don’t have any independence. And when we see that we need to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, which is 888-3737-888. And when we report bad information, that gives local advocates and law enforcement the information they need to do an investigation and effect a rescue for those victims. And usually when there’s one victim in that, they’re often more that we’ll find as well. That number is 888-3737-888.

Dave [00:19:46] You’ve mentioned a couple of different examples now of human trafficking, different and similar at the same time. I’m curious, where does it exist and where, if anywhere, does it not exist?

Sandra [00:19:59] Human trafficking can be in absolutely every community, every socioeconomic class. One of the cases here in Orange County was in an upscale gated Irvine community when they found a little 12-year-old Egyptian child as a housemaid in a one point six million dollar home. She’d been brought here by the family to take care of the house and the younger children. It was a family of two adults and five children. She worked seven days a week. She cleaned. She went to bed late at night after all the dishes were done. She did their laundry in the laundry, in the washer and dryer. And her own, she had to wash in a bucket with dish soap. She slept in the garage with no air conditioning and no heating. She never went to school, never saw a dentist, never saw a doctor. And she was rescued because a neighbor noticed there was one child at that house that didn’t go to school. And that neighbor picked up the phone and called. And that’s what’s so important about all of us understanding that we are all part of ending human trafficking, we have to be alert, we have to be aware and we have to know what to do when we see something. And that is to call 888-3737-888.

Dave [00:21:28] And there’s, I know for me at least, I mean, we live in a nice community in South Orange County. And for those who are listening online, we’re recording this in Orange County, California, which is a fairly, you know, higher socio-economic area. And I think that there is a feeling that, oh, this doesn’t happen in my neighborhood or this can’t happen in my neighborhood because this is a a well-to-do community. This is a community with a low crime rate. But, you know, I hear your story about Irvine, and that’s just it, it really can happen anywhere.

Sandra [00:22:00] Absolutely anywhere. We rescue women from commercial sexual exploitation in residential brothels. A local house is rented for a brief period of time. They move the victims around. And they’re, the neighborhood doesn’t even notice because they’re so careful at not being noticed. We find victims in commercial sexual exploitation in strip malls where theres a front that may be a chiropractic office. And even once here in Orange County, it looked like a dentist’s office. So there is no one pattern. As soon as we find a pattern, they change and find another way to be hidden and invisible.

Dave [00:22:50] So is there a particular type of victim? I know there’s many victims in human trafficking. Who are some of the victims that really emerge in this awful process?

Sandra [00:23:03] Well, one of the things that our State Department and United Nations have determined is that the majority of victims are female. Seventy nine percent and over half of victims are still children. And that’s in a global capacity. So, but it impacts us. And I think this is another area to look at as we understand this. But just think about in the Trafficking in Persons report that our State Department puts out every year in June, since the year 2000 when the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was first passed–

Dave [00:23:40] Which you can get online, by the way, from the State Department.

Sandra [00:23:42] Exactly. And there are 11 of them. Now, you can download the entire report and go through and look country by country to see what progress they’ve made in passing laws against modern-day slavery. So you’ll find in there that there are children who are victims of trafficking as child soldiers. You’ll find victims who are working on plantations, cocoa plantations and sugar cane plantations. You’ll find them in brick kilns. You’ll find them in textile industry. One of the big cases we had here in Southern California several years ago involved an apartment complex that had been turned into a textile factory and had dozens and dozens of Asian workers that were in bondage. And they were working seven days a week. It was in a community and people didn’t really notice that, you know, you can’t see in the windows and the fence around that area had wrought iron posts with spikes on it and razor wire. But when you looked a little closer and you thought, what is wrong with this picture, you realized the spikes on the fence faced in to keep people in instead of facing out to keep people out. And it’s those little things that we begin to see in our communities, where we’re the ones who know what normal looks like. And so for us to learn how to just say something doesn’t feel right here. I went to a nail salon and it seemed like this girl was afraid to talk and she kept looking at the owner. And later, I realized that there was something wrong and called to report that. That’s how they get tips when there is something going on in a neighborhood. If you see, one of the areas that we see lots of of labor trafficking in is in the restaurant and hotel industries. And then construction workers in the domestic servitude areas. One of the recent cases here in Southern California involved a seniors residence where elder care was being provided and the trafficker, who was a woman. And I want to make sure we understand not all traffickers are men and it isn’t all sex trafficking. The woman actually ordered six young people from the trafficker from the Philippines, paid twenty five thousand dollars each. And when they were delivered, they were placed in service at a residential elder care facility and they work seven days a week and they slept on the carpet and were in a closet or any room where they could find. They ate whatever was left over. And that trafficker went to prison. And the victims then were given the victim services that come with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act legislation. They were put into restoration programs and eventually will be on a path where they can either return to their country if that’s what they want to do, or because they’ve been the victims of crime here in the USA, then they qualify to become to receive a T-Visa and get on a path for citizenship here.

Dave [00:27:28] We just have a couple of minutes remaining. I’m curious, what would you want the audience to remember and really know about human trafficking? And if they were going to, if someone was going to know one thing, who knew nothing about this issue, what would you want them to remember?

Sandra [00:27:44] I would want them to remember that fraud and coercion are the chains of modern-day slavery. And when people respond to that promise of a better life, it sounds great. And then when they find themselves trapped, we’re the ones who can break those chains. And we do that by being alert and remembering that we can just make a phone call to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline that will result in our law enforcement then taking the initiative to do the investigation.

Dave [00:28:21] And that number again, just so people have it.

Sandra [00:28:24] 888-3737-888.

Dave [00:28:28] And so, you know, I’m so overwhelmed by how much information that there is about human trafficking and while I’m overwhelmed, I’m also glad we’re doing the show. And that we’ll have a number of different episodes coming up in the coming months that will really help us all to gain more of an understanding of this issue and put a little bit of context around a very, very complex problem. And so for those who want to know more or really actually maybe have a question for Sandie, or you’d like us to address a topic about human trafficking on a future show, you can reach us. This is not the number for human trafficking, by the way. So that’s the number Sandie already gave. But you can reach Sandie at 714-556-3610. And again, that’s at extension 2242, or again, you can reach us is by email at gcwj@vanguard.edu or the website is gcwj.vanguard.edu. And Sandie, our next topic, our next episode in two weeks will be on how human trafficking is big business. Could you tell us a little bit about what we’ll be talking about in that episode?

Sandra [00:29:46] I think it’s going to be pretty surprising for people to realize that you can find yourself as a piece of the big picture just in your daily shopping. Human trafficking is a 33 billion dollar industry and we’re going to talk about why that is big business.

Dave [00:30:06] And so be sure to join us for our next episode on how human trafficking is big business and learning more about how we can combat this issue. Again, if you have a comment for us, leave it for us on email, gcwj@vanguard.edu. And we hope you join us for our second episode here coming up in two weeks. And by the way, if you’re interested in learning more about human trafficking and educating yourself, we’re going to be having an annual conference coming up for the Global Center on Women and Justice coming up March 2nd and 3rd, 2012. So you can put that on your calendar now. And we’ll look forward to seeing you then. Sandie, thanks so much for your time today.

Sandra [00:30:47] Thank you, Dave.

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