1 – What is Human Trafficking?

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 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 exemplifies by these stories of modern-day slavery.
  • 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.


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Dave: Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, my name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: And my name is Sandra Morgan.

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

Sandie: Dave, those are the goals for the Global Center for Women and Justice (GCWJ), and I am the director for the GCWJ, and human trafficking is a major issue that our students at Vanguard University are really interested in.

Dave: I am really excited to be doing this show with you, and I’ve actually been looking forward to this all week, Sandie.

Sandie: Oh, good.

Dave: We are 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 3 or 4 years?

Sandie: Yeah, at least.

Dave: 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 is going on with this issue and helping really empower people with the right info so I am so excited to be a part of it and I’m glad that we are jumping into this.

Sandie: Well, that reminds me, Dave, 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 really want to help end human trafficking.

Dave: Mm, good.

Sandie: “How do we start? What do we do?” And that’s what I really love about the GCWJ, 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: 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 bi-weekly 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. 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. Sandie, would you start off, first of all, and just give us a little background on, “What are the GCWJ at Vanguard and a little bit about the center that you direct?”

Sandie: The GCWJ at Vanguard University (VU) 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 toward justice work in our community. There are so many big justice issues and they are in the media and they grab your heart and sometimes your purse strings too.

Dave: Yeah.

Sandie: But we want to do things that are sustainable, that are best practice, that is going to make long-term change possible. And we believe that this generation, that equipping this generation is a goal and a practical way to accomplish that goal.

Dave: 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 good information about the issue and educating our audience and you, Sandie, really are an expert in this area in so many ways and one of the reasons I’m so excited to be doing the show with you is to learn more about human trafficking. 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 are 2 ways you can reach out to us and that way we can get back to you and even include your question in a future show. One way is to reach us by phone at 714.556.3610 and then extension 2242 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 for GCWJ

Sandie: And we have a website, Dave.

Dave: Ah, I forgot.

Sandie: gcwj.vanguard.edu and there are excellent resources and links to best practices on human trafficking. I think one of the things that I really appreciate about this venue is the opportunity for us to take a few minutes to 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 law is a 3-part perspective on what are the elements of human trafficking, of modern-day slavery. And those 3 elements are force, fraud, and coercion. So force, that would be the typical image that you have, that someone is kidnapping you, putting you in a van, and driving you a way to force you to work in some kind of labor camp or placing you in a brothel as a commercial sex worker.

Dave: Force is, a lot of times, what I think people think of when they think of slavery, isn’t it?

Sandie: Yeah, I think that’s what we do think of. For instance, there are popular movies that really play off of the force aspect. Someone is kidnapping, and there is screaming, and there is furniture being knocked around. But if you are a criminal, you want to leave as little evidence as possible. So you are going to look for ways not to be noticed. You are going 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: Oh, Interesting.

Sandie: Let me tell you a story.

Dave: Yes, please.

Sandie: 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 will just call her Maria, to keep her identity anonymous. So, she’s 17 years old, She graduates at the top of her class, she is really smart. Her dad had died in one of the conflicts. Her mother and her 8-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 & 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. What kind of information do you put on a job application, Dave?

Dave: Oh gosh, name, address, employment history, just about everything, all your personal information, references…

Sandie: Everything, everything, and so she did that. And it was not like an inkjet printer job, it was bonafide, 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 with all my documents and we’re leaving.” I’m going to spend half of the money to you, and a half I’m going to save for nursing school. On the appointed day, Maria came back and handed over her documents to the “travel coordinator,” who was really a human trafficker and got on the train with dreams and hopes for an amazing future. 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 laid down, her door burst open, and 4 men, dressed in police uniforms, not necessarily because they were Law Enforcement, but as part of the breaking down strategy. 4 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 to 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, for almost 2 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 will never forget hearing this Ukrainian counselor translate for me and tell me that when they asked 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 asked, “Well, how did you keep going?” And she said, “I had to. They knew where my 8-year-old bother lived and they said they would get him if I ran away.” So Maria’s story, to go back to those 3 elements that we’re looking for: force, fraud, and 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 & her legs. And then they used 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 8-year-old brother lives,” and she did whatever they told her to do.

Dave: There are 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 idea what they are getting into and just wanting to create a better life 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 disheartening thing to hear.

Sandie: 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.”

The idea that coming to the west will increase your opportunities. 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: 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, “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 isn’t really a choice for them.

Sandie: No, and this is the thing we see in our heads, in our mind’s eye, pictures of people in handcuffs and chains and ropes. But the real binding part of human trafficking is that coercion, the threats, and the idea that they’re going to harm you. But, eventually, that doesn’t matter anymore. Then 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. The victim begins to feel like they are in a survival mode. And the techniques, like in Maria’s case, they moved her from brothel to brothel every 2 weeks. Someone from a business perspective looks at that and says, “Well they want to move around their product so that there is a variety in each location.” 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 or 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: And I know you make a distinction between human trafficking & smuggling. What is the difference between those two things?

Sandie: I think that’s especially important in the context of Southern California because we live close to a border, so it seems like a very confusing issue. So let’s just tell the story, and we will call this guy José. 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 is outside.”  José says, “Well I don’t have the money to get there.” So he says, “That’s okay, you’ll owe me.” So then they arrange the plan and they come into the US and the “smuggler” who is really a trafficker has used that fraud aspect, that element of trafficking, to lure José into this circumstance. Now, if José had made the arrangements and initiated this, and paid him the $3,000, 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 is a crime against immigration law. But what happened to José, is the “smuggler,” the “coyote,” who is really a trafficker, is now in control of José because he owes him a debt. So, he doesn’t wash his hands of José at the border. He now puts him into a van and takes him to a worksite where Jose is working 7 days a week, 12-16 hours a day. And at the end of the week, when José lines up to get his 1st paycheck, which isn’t really a check because José can’t go to a 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 José owes the company. He owes the interest on his debt, which is very high interest, for coming across the border. He also owes for his lodging, even though its been sleeping on the floor. He owes for the meals he has 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.  The 2nd or 3rd week, it finally begins to sink in that he has gotten himself, and this is their minds, 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, he is in debt bondage, which is one of the forms human trafficking takes. We see it all around us here. These people, when they are trapped like that, they don’t realize that anyone will help them. So they don’t self identify. They don’t say, “Please help me get out.” So it’s really important in our community 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 are 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 (NHTRC) hotline, which is 888.3737.888. And when we report that information, that gives local advocates & law enforcement the information they need to do an investigation & effect a rescue for those victims. Usually, when there is one victim, there are often more that we’ll find as well. That number is 888.3737.888.

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

Sandie: 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 1.6 million dollar home.

Dave: Wow.

Sandie: She had been brought here by the family to take care of the house and the younger children. It was a family of 2 adults and 5 children. She worked 7 days a week. She cleaned. She went to bed late at night after all the dishes were done. She did their 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. 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 & called. And that is what is 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: And there is, I know for me at least, I mean, we live in a nice community in OC and, for those who are listening online, we’re recording this in OC, CA, which is a fairly higher socioeconomic area. I think that there is a feeling that, “This doesn’t happen in my neighborhood. This can’t happen in my community because this is a well-to-do community. This is a community with a low crime rate.” I hear your story about Irvine and it really can happen anywhere.

Sandie: Absolutely anywhere. We rescue women from Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in residential brothels. A local house is rented for a brief period of time. They move the victims around and the neighborhood doesn’t even notice because they are so careful at not being noticed. We find victims of CSE in strip malls where there is a front that may be a chiropractic office. Even once, here in OC, it looked like a dentist’s office. There is no one pattern. As soon as we find a pattern, they change and find another way to be hidden and invisible.

Dave: So, is there a particular type of victim? I know there are many victims of human trafficking. Who are some of the victims that really emerge in this awful process?

Sandie: Well one of the things that our state department & the United Nations have determined is that a majority of the victims are female: 79%. And over half of victims are still children. And that’s in a global capacity, 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 person’s report that our state puts out every year, in June, since the year 2000, when the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was first passed.

Dave: Which you can get online, by the way, from the state department.

Sandie: And you can get that online, exactly. And there are 11 of them now, you can download the entire report and go and look country by country and see what progress they’ve made in passing laws against modern-day slavery. So you will find in there that there are children victims of trafficking as child soldiers. You will find victims that are working in plantations; cocoa plantations, sugar cane plantations. You will find them in brick kilns. You will find them in the textile industry. One of the big cases we had here in Southern California a few years ago involved an apartment complex that had been turned into a textile factory that had dozens & dozens of Asian workers that were in bondage. And they were working 7 days a week. It was in a community and people didn’t really notice. You know, you can’t see in the windows. The fence around that area had rot iron posts with spikes on it and razor wire. But when you looked a little closer and thought, what is wrong with this picture? You realized that the spikes on the fence faced in to keep people in, instead of facing out to keep people out. And it is those little things that we begin to see in our communities. We are 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. One of the areas we see a lot of labor trafficking is in the restaurant & hotel industries, and then construction workers, in the domestic servitude areas. One of the recent cases here in SC 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 that not all traffickers are men and it isn’t always sex trafficking. The woman actually ordered 6 young people from the trafficker from the Philippines. Paid $25,000 each and when they were delivered, they were placed in service at a residential elder care facility and they worked 7 days a week. And they slept on the carpet in a closet or any room they could find. They ate whatever was leftover. And that trafficker went to prison. The victims then were given the victim services that come with the TVPA 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 a crime here in the USA, then they qualify to receive a T-Visa & get on the path for citizenship here.

Dave: We just have a couple of minutes remaining, I am curious, what would you want the audience to remember and really know about human trafficking. If someone was going to know one thing, who knew nothing about this issue, what would you want them to remember?

Sandie: 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 are 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 NHTRC hotline and that will result in our law enforcement then taking the initiative to do the investigation.

Dave: And that number again, just so people have it.

Sandie: 888.3737.888

Dave: And so, you know, I am so overwhelmed by how much information there is about human trafficking, and while I am overwhelmed, I am also glad we are doing this show. And that we will have a number of different episodes coming up that will help us gain an understanding of this issue and out a little bit of context around a very, very complex problem. For those who want to know more or, really, actually maybe have a question for Sandie, or you would 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, that’s the number Sandie already gave, but you can reach Sandie at 714.556.3610, and again, that’s at x2242. Or, again, you can reach us by email at gcwj@vanguard.edu, or the website is gcwj.vanguard.edu. And, Sandie, our next topic, our next episode, will be on how human trafficking is big business. Could you tell us a little about what we will be talking about the next episode?

Sandie: I think it is 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 industry. We are going to talk about why that is big business.

Dave: And so, be sure to join us on 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 at gcwj@vanguard.edu. We hope you join us for our second episode coming up here in 2 weeks. And by the way, if you are interested in learning more about human trafficking & educating yourself, were going to be having an annual conference coming up for the GCWJ, coming up March 2nd through March 3rd, 2012 So you can put that on your calendar now and we will look forward to seeing you then. Sandie, thanks so much for your time today.

Sandie: Thank you, Dave.

Sandie Morgan

Sandie Morgan, PhD, RN is recognized globally for her expertise in combatting human trafficking and working to end violence against women. As Director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women & Justice (GCWJ), she oversees the Women’s Studies Minor as well as teaching Family Violence and Human Trafficking.
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