Human trafficking Part 2

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By Patricia A. Woodbury

Who are these victims of human trafficking? Can you recognize them among the people you see each day? Probably not! Some would say that they are probably foreigners or poor people. However the experts say that Human Trafficking victims can be of any age, race, gender, nationality, and come from any socio-economic group.

They cannot be described by height, weight, and skin or eye color but rather by predictable behaviors. These possible indicators might include lack of knowledge of what city they are in; appearing anxious, depressed, submissive, tense or nervous especially if suggested to contact law enforcement for assistance. They may have few or no personal possessions, no money or personal identification. They may appear hungry or malnourished and have poor eye contact. These are just a few characteristics which may or may not be present in all trafficking cases which make it hard to identify these individuals.

Sex traffickers do not have to parade their victims on the street anymore, they can sell them online. This gives them a wider customer base and greater protection. This is not the type of crime that comes to law enforcement in a neat package. It hides in the shadows of fancy hotels, office buildings and popular suburbs. It is modern day slavery woven into the fabric of the community.

A business, right up the street, in one of those shopping plazas could serve as a front for trafficking. Do you think you would notice if the workers in these businesses have freedom of movement? Do they live and work in the same place? Would you notice if they being brought in early in the morning in vans and may or may not leave until 11 or so at night? Is the building being used to keep people out or to keep people in? Are the individuals you see withdrawn, afraid to talk or is their communication censored?

According to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) there are few human rights crises more dire than in industrial agriculture than sexual violence against farmworkers. Florida has a large contingency of farmworkers in the state. In the United States Agriculture industry it is estimated that four in five women suffer sexual harassment and assault on the job. The CIW Women’s group is working to bring change to this problem in the agricultural industry.

A major challenge faced by Florida is the large number of human trafficking victims who are under the age of 18. According to the Marion County Task Force for Human Trafficking, 78% of sex trafficking among children involved female children and 15% involve young males. Male and female ages ranged from 8-17 years. However compared to female children it was less common for male children to be of the younger age. Sextortion is occurring online. They use many different manipulative tactics. The most common (68%) were the offenders threatening to post sexual content online, about the victim, for family and friends to see if the child did not comply. Also they would threaten to harm the victim’s family members. They often bribed the victim with money or drugs. Sometimes they would convince a female victim that they had work for them in a modeling agency. Children may also be exploited for forced labor, including domestic servitude, factory work and farming. Be alert to children who run away from foster care or abusive, domestic violence home siuations. These are the kids who will be picked up on the street and solicited for sex and forced labor.

The bottom line is that as citizens we need to keep our eyes and ears open to this growing public health problem. If you have information about a possible trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888 toll free. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call. You might also want to call your local Marion County Sheriff’s Office who will encourage you to e-mail your information and they will send it on to the Task Force for Human Trafficking.

To hear more about the victims of Human Trafficking, mark your calendar for the public forum on Human Trafficking Tuesday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Marion County Public Library, 2720 E. Silver Spring Blvd., Ocala, sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). For more information about this upcoming forum contact 352-236-3926.

Patricia Woodbury is a member of the American Association of University Women.