260: Labor Trafficking Outreach with Rachel Parker


Dr. Sandra Morgan and Rachel Parker discuss labor trafficking outreach strategies, touching on community allyship, training and safety protocols, and outreach with and to the local community to identify labor trafficking victims.

Rachel Parker

Rachel Parker is the Anti-Human Trafficking Services Program Manager at World Relief Triad, which she had led for 10 years. She has a master’s in international studies from East Carolina University. Rachel coordinates and supervises outreach and direct services for survivors of both labor and sex trafficking, as well as supervising the coordination of the Triad Labor Trafficking Task Force, the Guilford Minor Trafficking Response Team, and the Triad Rapid Response Team to support victim identification and effective responses across Guilford, Forsyth and Davidson counties.

Key Points

  • Development of a labor trafficking task force to fill the gap in identification and building stronger networks across the community.
  • Outreach at seasonal fairs required community support and yielded responses from migrant populations.
  • Redefining success to also include providing information and awareness of services available to victims of labor trafficking, even when they decline services.
  • For outreach, using a decentralized bystander approach.
  • Prioritizing safety for workers and volunteers during outreach.


Love the show? Consider supporting us on Patreon!


Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, this is episode number 260 Labor Trafficking Outreach with Rachel Parker.

Production Credits [00:00:09] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave [00:00:29] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Today, Sandie, so glad that we have an expert with us to really look at labor trafficking outreach in more detail. I’m so glad to welcome to the show today Rachel Parker. She has led World Relief Triad’s anti-human trafficking program for 10 years. She has a master’s in international studies from East Carolina University. Rachel coordinates and supervises outreach and direct services for survivors of both labor and sex trafficking, as well as supervising the coordination of the Triad Labor Trafficking Task Force, the Guilford Minor Trafficking Response Team, and the Triad Rapid Response Team to support victim identification and effective responses across Guilford, Forsyth and Davidson counties. We’re so glad to welcome you to the show, Rachel.

Rachel [00:01:32] Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Sandie [00:01:35] I’m really excited to have this conversation today, Rachel. I think in recent days I’ve talked to so many victim service providers who were surprised when they learned from the survivors that they weren’t looking for someone to rescue them. They didn’t even know that anyone was looking for them. They didn’t identify as a victim, and they often were a little concerned when people approached them that they might get in trouble or lose their job, all kinds of other things. So learning to do outreach to identify victims of labor trafficking is a little different than identifying victims of sex trafficking. And that might be one of the issues we need to be addressing to improve our record of identifying labor trafficking. So tell us what you do on the Triad Task Force and Rapid Response Team.

Rachel [00:02:47] Yeah. So our Triad Rapid Response Team actually formed in 2009, and I’ve been facilitating it or supervising the facilitation since 2012. The name says it all. It’s a rapid response. So when identification occurs and emergency services are needed, we are looking to provide those rapid services across multi counties because of course, safety, security, maybe shelters are full, all of those different things to coordinate through. And so that allows us by having a multidisciplinary team that’s collaborative to respond. However, just kind of giving you guys back history a little bit. When we looked back through our data that we collected, we were really responding to primarily sex trafficking victims and from that the members, we assessed our members and our stakeholders, that were required and vital to a rapid response. And they were around law enforcement, spice narcotics units, child and sex adult crime units, and also the domestic violence and sexual assault shelters. So we really wanted to address what we were feeling was a gap in the identification of labor trafficking because we were receiving referrals from immigration attorneys and from various community sources, but not being able to really engage from our emergency service providers about labor trafficking situations that were occurring locally. And sometimes the ones that had relocated for security, safety, and also resources. So what we found is when we sought to build this labor trafficking task force, it is connected with our rapid response team. So we are not looking to actually do any case reviews through the Labor Trafficking Task Force. It’s about really filling the gap of identification and awareness or the gap and awareness so that we can identify the situations that are more prevalent in our local communities. So they are connected with the Triad Rapid Response Team, as I mentioned. But we also found that we had a much, much more diverse stakeholder list of interested parties across our multi counties from homeless service providers, also referring to them as unhoused service providers. If you hear me refer to them as such and I’m starting to change my language a little bit. And so I’m still in the mix of that, but even working with other community service providers across the area and trying to, again, increase awareness. See, where are we going to mostly identify, begin to identify these vulnerable folks because as you said it, they may not see that what’s happening to them is a system of exploitation. We have a culture that’s very much pull it up by your bootstraps and just keep on going. And you know, the bed that you made is the bed that you’re going to lie in. So we have this lack of identification sometimes by individuals that they have more rights and more protections. And so again, that’s why we came around to the labor trafficking task forces to begin looking at the types of trafficking that were identified through Polaris Projects 25 methodologies.

Sandie [00:06:15] OK. And we’ll put a link to those 25 methodologies in our show notes. But what we’re going to do now is go over four different approaches to outreach. Unhoused vulnerability, fair outreach, begging crew outreach, and Asian victim protocols. So let’s start with why an unhoused population survey?

Rachel [00:06:42] That was a great question. So as we began to gather stakeholders for this labor trafficking task force as it was beginning and we were trying to identify, OK, what are the issues that we’re seeing locally? Where should we start? Because there’s 25 types identified through that methodology report, not all of them obviously labor trafficking, but there’s a good amount. And so where do we start? And we actually had some unhoused provider agencies at the table and they raise their hands and they’re like, well, we’re seeing this and we don’t know how to respond. We don’t know how to support the population, the clientele that we’re providing services for. But they were seeing people come into the shelters, recruit for day employment or for project employment. They were seeing recruitment during fair seasons where someone was coming back to report on multiple occasions that they weren’t getting paid what was promised. And that also in one situation that someone was forced to sleep in a box, actually. So, you know, these are some pretty egregious pieces that we were experiencing locally. And so we felt like we needed to one, come around this population as a vulnerability and see what are the other areas that we were experiencing. And so we started out we reached out to various unhoused agency providers throughout the counties, the three counties that we serve. And we learned things like, you know, finding out the best time of day to also go and do this survey because we just, you know, we happened to show up in the morning that an employer had just come in and everyone had left for a day job. And so there were only 11 people left in the whole shelter. So, you know, you just there are some unknown unplanned things that obviously happen. But we had ninety-five participants across three counties. And what we found was that 76 percent of them had identified one red flag or more of labor trafficking that they had experienced. And then we found that about 44% had experienced three or more and 36% had experienced four or more red flags of trafficking. And so we had reviewed our survey just trying to make it as specific as possible, but also being general. And so we felt very comfortable with the survey that we did utilize. But understanding that this was a first foray, this helped to kind of at least direct us some parts. And so in that, we then began to tackle the next pieces of the vulnerabilities that were specifically being targeted around unhoused individuals.

Sandie [00:09:26] So, I was pretty impressed with the questions in this survey because they were very simple and gave a lot of room for the person you’re here talking to to tell their story, really. So I don’t think that people would necessarily just answer yes or no. And I’m going to just read through these questions. And if you want to make a comment, just stop me. But I want people to understand it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find labor trafficking. It takes people being interested in what’s going on here and what am I not seeing? So the first question is it’s very conversational. Sometimes when people travel to a new area, they make an agreement with the person or people who organize their travel. Did you come to this area because you or your parents were promised work or an education? And that’s such a conversational tone, and it sets a place for having some kind of relationship. The second question, do you or your family owe something to the person or people who helped you come to this area? And third, has anyone ever held your I.D. or other legal documents without your consent? And that was the first time it seemed like a little bit more of a formal question. But I’m imagining that that’s coming at a point after you’ve had a little bit more conversation as the person tells you more of their story.

Rachel [00:11:07] Yes. Well, and actually, this was a written survey, so we engage them with some conversation, but this was actually a written survey for them.

Sandie [00:11:16] OK, I thought it was because it’s so conversational. The fourth question, and it really helps them see that they may not be the only person because it starts with it is not uncommon for people to stay in work situations that are risky or even dangerous simply because they have no other options. Have you ever worked in a place that made you feel scared or unsafe? And then it goes on, and we’ll put a link to this survey for people to look at it, to see how you might be able to do something in your area, depending on what kind of labor trafficking happens, which industry that people might be in. Was there any sense of industry specific responses in your experience?

Rachel [00:12:11] There was a few points that’s not in the aggregated data, and so I would have to actually go back and review. But mostly people were just identifying yes or no. But we did have a few instances where they did identify some of those kind of industries, as you mentioned.

Sandie [00:12:30] I was really interested in how you did fair outreach because Vanguard University is right across the street from our big fairgrounds. And I thought I’ve always seen our fair as an opportunity to do outreach to the community, have an information booth for people who come to the fair. How do you do fair outreach to the people working in the fair?

Rachel [00:12:57] Yeah, that was a big endeavor, actually. And so I also have to one, identify that we had a staff person that had helped us to create the labor trafficking task force and who worked very diligently on that survey and also in putting together the fair outreach. And so that’s Elise Riveness and she’s since left us to move on to additional career opportunities working within farmworker units, but just want to give her a quick shout out. And how she came about the fair is wanting to really engage volunteers as well. And wanting to have, we wanted to be sensitive to the community of bringing awareness and making sure that we have that component. So we felt like that was very important. And then we also had a specific prong to it, an additional prong to that outreach, where we had volunteers going out, walking into the fair at different times and they were paired together. There were, so there were two people. We didn’t want it to be big groups because we didn’t want to be overwhelming, but they went around and they just engaged the people that worked at the fair in conversations. And so we saw a lot of red flags, in particular with the migrant populations where they were asking if they would get in trouble if someone knew about them talking to us. We also saw actually people following us through the fair at different times. There was just one person that actually followed the volunteers, and just any time they tried to approach or talk to someone, they would just shout out, “they’re trying to find out something about the fair.” You know, and just kind of put it in a malignant situation or kind of look of it. So we just had to kind of gracefully back away at that time and just start again the next day. So one thing that we did is we, our fair was for two weeks and I would definitely encourage don’t try to span all of that time because you need to go in shifts. It’s exhausting as well just being walking around in the sun. And I know people get exhausted from having the fun of going to the fair, but then trying to be vigilant on that, you know, you need to have shifts that people for that and respect their time. So one of the things, though, that was really impactful is one we got to see also the living situations for the fair. And of course, you know, you have individual vendors, like this is their business and they all come together with this fair. And so you try as much as possible to make it safe as the overall fair. But you do have individuals that you know, they may know how to work the system. And so that’s why as a community, we need to be diligent to increase that awareness and create those ally ships. One particular situation, though, was it happened to be my staff that were walking together and they were fixing to approach a young man, and they were trying to figure out how to start that conversation, right? So, and just to back up, in training we did some role play to begin starting that conversation. I would definitely encourage anyone who’s putting together an outreach have that time because you think you’re going to be easy or it’s going to be easy starting those conversations and then you get nervous and so have some role play for it. So they were debating on, you know, how to engage as well. And the young man actually looked up and he was a U.S. citizen. He looked up and he said, you want to know something really weird? And they’re like, sure, tell us. And he just shared that he had come from Florida. He had met this guy at a party who had identified that he was working at a fair and that he needed someone to help kind of shoulder the load. And if this guy was willing to join him up in North Carolina at this fair. They’d split the time, he’d get free room and board, and he would be able to go and have some fun as well and still make some money. So the guy had said that, you know, a couple of my friends had actually worked with this guy, so I thought it was legit and good. But what he found out, he wasn’t getting paid for the entire time that he was there. He never got a paycheck. He never got money that he could keep. He had to give the money that he did receive at the end of the day to the guy. He found out that originally in the first couple of days, they were sharing the load. But then it stopped and the guy was having to do other business, or he was at the hotel room and he couldn’t get out there and it started to be excuses. And so he was shouldering a 10-hour day. And then when he would go to the bathroom or step away, his phone would start blowing up with, you know, why’d you leave the booth? Where are you? And so then it was a question of how is he knowing this? Are you looking, you know, is there viewing equipment around? Is there someone who has eyes on me? It really became concerning. And then as this progressed, throughout the two weeks, there became some verbal abuse and some even development towards physical abuse, as well. And so really just didn’t sit well with the young man. He didn’t know what to do, didn’t have any money because he’d spent it all getting up to there, to North Carolina from Florida. And so we were able to talk with him, identify. And whenever you do introduce that, hey, I think there’s something more here, you know, be very intentional with that conversation because it can be very overwhelming to not only process that, you know, what’s happening to you is wrong, but there may be a larger aspect to it. And, you know, people need time to process that. We were able to help him talk with a plainclothes officer that was a part of our rapid response team. And they did decide not to press charges at that time. They wanted to wait to see if they did get paid at the end of the time period, and we were able to follow up and they were not paid at the end of the time period. So they chose not to receive services, but we were also able to just plant the seed that, hey, there are service providers out there. And so the other thing I would also encourage is how do we look at success? Is it that we help someone get out of the situation? Is it that we provided services? Or is it that we provided information and a good sense of rapport that helped to alleviate the fear that this was that person’s responsibility and that they caused this? And so we want to alleviate that fear so that when they are ready, they can reach out and seek those services, if that makes sense.

Sandie [00:19:49] Absolutely, absolutely. And labor trafficking often isn’t identified because of some of those complex issues and respecting the person and their choices. We don’t always get to see justice the way we want to see that. I want to hit these other two kinds of outreach, the begging crews. Oh my goodness, this is like everywhere. How do you do begging crew outreach?

Rachel [00:20:20] So we’ve only done begging for outreach once, actually, but it was really helpful and informative, and we felt very successful as well. So I do want to kind of give some background. We had worked with some folks from a begging crew situation. My understanding from the law enforcement who would refer them to us is that this took an eight year investigation because those folks that may find themselves panhandling or begging. However, the terms are that you use that, you know, they may have gone through broken systems and there may be a lot of lack of trust that you have to be able to work through. So just kind of thinking of that and looking at that. What we had start to see is that as we were providing services to these folks, we would be going grocery shopping or taking them to an appointment. And there was one particular situation where we were exiting off of the highway and we were at a stoplight and there were two gentlemen standing by the highway. And one was holding up a sign, the other one, they were in conversation. And so one went away and laid underneath a bush in the shade, pulled out of his phone and started tapping away. And it was so eye opening to me because my client referred to that person as the pimp. And to hear the a sexualized term for me, like a commercial sex term for me applied in the situation just showed the coercion and the power and control that is now prevalent, or may be in these situations. So coming back to what we’re seeing is we have seen the emergence of organizations that are identifying as Faith-Based and religious organizations posing as addiction recovery and then as they’re getting people to come into their doors and they may say that they’ll offer different services. And in the particular situations we were working with, they were told that they’d be getting counseling and they didn’t like groups and to provide support networks. Instead, they were out fundraising and that fundraising was panhandling, essentially. And so they would pile into one vehicle, there’d be a driver. In this particular situation, the driver also is a victim, but the driver also may be the trafficker or may be a victim, just as I mentioned in this situation. So that’s something to consider. Additionally, they were moving from different localities, and so they didn’t know where they were. And I had as I provided services, they would be like, Oh, I recognize this intersection. I didn’t know we were here, you know? And so that was also eye opening. We had a situation where one of our clients had been hit by a car, actually, and they were never offered medical care. And then another one where there may be ordinances, so your community may not have an ordinance or may have an ordinance that you have to register and if you don’t, then maybe you get a citation. And in these situations, they didn’t come back around. They weren’t given transportation to respond to the citation. And so therefore they had a failure to appear and a warrant out for their arrest. So those were concerning situations that really pushed them deeper into that relationship. The other thing that we saw was criminal enterprises. So selling for using addiction or theft to keep people begging, and then the drugs were given as a quota. And that’s also with the faith based. There’s typically a quota. And I will just touch base very briefly. But we do see some youth activity groups and we’ve seen one where there was fundraising for tournaments or under the guise, well-known non-profit. But then there there was potential exploitation and labor trafficking in those. So getting back to your question, how we did it is, so we met with our team, our volunteers. We had a request from our local law enforcement. Someone had actually just happened to share with, I think, a plainclothes officer that they were being required to be out on the streets begging because of drugs. And so that kind of perked up some ears. And then they reached out to our labor trafficking task force and we were able to form this particular outreach. And so when we went, you know, obviously we met and we did a two pronged approach in this situation again as well, where a couple of days prior to actually going out trying to talk with folks that were engaged in these rings, we went to the businesses and we tried to put some materials with the businesses because what we didn’t want to do is we didn’t want to walk up to people and say, here’s some labor trafficking information, you know, we think you’re being labor trafficked. So instead, we wanted to kind of peppard around the surrounding areas where they may go into for food or for bathroom breaks or to get some water or something like that. So that and and also that we could refer them. Hey, if you’re interested, there is much more materials here in these stores. And so that was one thing we did. The other thing that we did when we we worked with law enforcement as well. So there were plainclothes unidentified cars that were there to provide safety. So it was just really adds on because we may be interrupting someone’s method of making money. And we wanted to be very conscientious of that, that we’re not causing harm to someone and we’re not putting our volunteers and ourselves in harm’s way because that doesn’t help anyone, right? And so they were around the area just to have eyes on. When we rolled up to, or when we drove up, to the intersection where the concerns had been identified around we did see it, it didn’t, there were not a lot of people around that day, whereas in other days, you know, the intersections were blanketed, so there were a lot of people on every corner and median. But in this time frame, it happened to be just a few people around. So we went to speak with a young woman. And as we were speaking with her, we had identified previously that she had gone up to a vehicle and seemed to have conversation with that vehicle. So of course, we didn’t know. Maybe there was just someone, you know, just waiting for someone to come out of a store or something like that. But we started to see consistent behavior, so it looked like there was some power and control happening. And as we began to engage this person in conversation, someone else got out of the vehicle and kind of strolled up and around and kind of looked around us and we had two people again together because we didn’t want to be overwhelming, but we didn’t want to be an individual either. So one of us was able to kind of step to the side a little bit and engage the other person. And we found out later that they did come from the same vehicle, as well. And then how we how we brought this conversation around was about allyship. It wasn’t, hey, are you being trafficked? It’s like, hey, we’re part of a task force. We understood that there may be some concerns out here, and we really want to share that there’s support services. And of course, we want it to be organic conversation. But being able to really just engage, hey, if you see someone who has this, can we share with this what this looks like so that you can help inform them of what their rights are? And so we took the onus off of the individual and kind of cast it out to this person in the future if they ever happen to see something. And so then they would ask questions and so forth, and we’d be able to respond.

Sandie [00:28:06] That is so wise. That decentralizing the conversation and using more of a bystander approach, we’re really learning a lot from the domestic violence sector in how to use that kind of strategy. Your stories are so riveting. I forget I’m supposed to be asking you questions. Our time is just running out. And so what I’d like to do now for our listeners is, can you direct us to the amazing resource pool that you have at World Relief with tool kits and resources for this?

Rachel [00:28:42] Sure. So you can go to worldrelief.org/triad or just type in World Relief Triad. And so triad being the location that we are in as we have many offices around the area. And then if they go to our work, the anti-human trafficking page will pop up and under that there will be community resources. And we’ve worked with a lot of our local providers and stakeholders to make sure that we’ve got resources that would benefit them locally and in their careers and fields. And so please definitely utilize that and also give us some feedback as well. So we’re happy to still continue to develop those.

Sandie [00:29:24] I am so grateful. This is encouraging because a lot of people care about the issues around labor trafficking, but really didn’t have any structure. One of the things that I particularly picked up from your descriptions of these outreaches is safety first for you as a worker and for the possible victim, and also being coordinated with law enforcement and making sure that training happens before you start doing such good work. And the biggest takeaway for me is having that focus on ally ship. That we are working together with the people who might be being exploited and as their allies, we want the very best for them. So, oh my goodness, this has been so enlightening. I appreciate you so much, Rachel. And I hope that we get to work together again.

Rachel [00:30:33] I appreciate it very much. Thank you, Sandie, and thank you, Dave.

Dave [00:30:37] Thank you so much, Rachel. We’re going to have all these links, of course, linked up in the episode notes. The very best way to get access to that is just go over to endinghumantrafficking.org. You can also check out in the notes in your podcast app, of course. And while you’re online there, that’s a great place also to learn more about the Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate program here at Vanguard University. Details there on the site. Plus, I’d also invite you to take the first step while you’re online. You can download a copy of Sandie’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: a Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’ll teach you the five critical things that Sandie’s identified in her work that you should know before you’ve joined the fight against trafficking. You can get access to it at the same place endinghumantrafficking.org, and we will be back in two weeks with our very next conversation. Thanks, Sandie.

Sandie [00:31:31] Thanks, Dave.

Dave [00:31:31] To take care, everybody.

Scroll to Top