Question: Let’s talk about what people can do to help. Along with volunteering, donating, and spreading awareness, are there are any “warning signs” or “red flags” people can look out for– do people need to be aware of certain situations or industries?
Answer: Human trafficking is a big problem with a lot of off-shoots. There are several organizations involved in fighting it, and a big challenge is getting all of those organizations, along with law enforcement and prosecutors, on the same page. The organizations on the front lines are NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who are always looking for more funds and more help. Though many people want to work directly with victims, a NGO might need help with things like office support or fund-raising, so volunteers should be ready to help out wherever they are needed.
Individuals can help by educating themselves about the issue, and being prepared to share their knowledge– provide a sort of “Human Trafficking 101.” They can also become more aware of some of the warning signs that may point to a potential trafficking situation. In our presentations we talk about the following indicators:
- Employee living with employer
- Poor living conditions
- Employer keeping the employee’s documents (such as identification and/or visa)
- Signs of abuse
- Inability to speak to individual alone
- History of domestic violence
- Victims living at same premise where they work or driven to and from work
- Individual is kept under surveillance
- Individual is submissive and fearful
- Individual is tattooed or branded
- Individual is underpaid or unpaid
The important thing to remember when talking about red flags is that just because you see one or two things, it doesn’t mean that you automatically have a case of human trafficking. Instead, you’re looking for a pattern of indicators and whether or not the motivation behind what you’re seeing is control.
Here are a few other resources for learning about the difference indicators of trafficking:
- Polaris has a list of General Signs to look out for
- The Trafficking Resource Center provides the following lists:
As for industries, below are the different examples of where we’re seeing human trafficking. A few things to remember are that there are places/industries where you might see labor and sex trafficking occurring at the same time, this list doesn’t include every place trafficking occurs because traffickers are always coming up with new ways to exploit people, and when it comes to labor trafficking, we’re looking places that require low-wage low-skill and often manual work.
- Sex Trafficking:
- Pimp-controlled Prostitution (street-based, online, etc.)
- Escort Services
- “Hostess” Bar/Club Operations (adult entertainment industry)
- Residential/Underground Brothel Settings
- Asian Massage Parlors
- Truck Stops
- Labor Trafficking:
- “Mom and Pop” operations in industries such as:
- Nail salons
- Industrial cleaning
- Peddling Rings and Magazine Sales Crews
- Large-Scale Labor Cases:
- Factory setting (i.e. garments; food processing)
- Domestic Servitude
Question: Your organization helps folks coming into the US– do you have any thoughts regarding how the crisis in Syria might affect trafficking? Specifically labor trafficking?
Answer: Trafficking and general exploitation is going to increase when you have a vulnerable population. Traffickers know how to take advantage of an awful situation and quickly come up with ways to recruit from the desperate population. Here is a study that has been done with more information about this topic.
Question: More locally, there has been a lot of talk about a new stadium in St Louis. I have heard that sex trafficking and exploitation spike during major sporting events. Do you think a new stadium would impact trafficking here?
Answer: There does tend to be a lot of talk about human trafficking during big sporting events. It makes sense to think that the demand for commercial sex increases when you have an increase in the male population (like during a sporting event) but I haven’t seen any reports that actually substantiate that. But even if it does increase, people need to understand that the victims “brought in” to fill that demand were most likely already being victimized beforehand somewhere else. Two pretty good articles that discuss this issue can be found here and here.
Question: What are some common misconceptions/misunderstanding about trafficking you hear often?
- That you have to have movement of a victim in order for it to be a case of human trafficking
- You don’t. Trafficking means people are being exploited, threatened, and/or coerced. Not necessarily physically moved.
- That it is an international problem or only happens to foreign-nationals
- There have been cases of labor and/or sex trafficking in every state in America.
- That sex trafficking is the only form of human trafficking…no one ever knows about labor trafficking
- Though sex trafficking stories get a lot of press, labor trafficking is more common worldwide.
- That trafficking victims must be handcuffed or locked up somewhere because if they weren’t, they would just leave.
- People really don’t understand the power of coercive tactics and why that would keep someone in a situation of exploitation.
Question: How long have you been working to end trafficking in St Louis? What led you to your current position?
Answer: I’ve been working in the anti-trafficking field since December 2013 when I took my current position with the International Institute of St. Louis. My background is in international development with a concentration in education so I was very interested when a position opened up in St. Louis that included these two elements. I had also interned with the International Institute is an undergrad and had been looking for a position to open up within the organization.
Question: Can you tell me a little bit about your background/education? Did you grow up in St Louis? When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Answer: I was born in St. Louis but moved to the metro area with my family when I was in first grade. We moved to Glen Carbon, IL and I stayed there through high school. I received my BA in Anthropology and Religion with a minor in Chinese from Butler University in Indianapolis and then received my MA in International Development with a concentration in education from the University of Denver. When I was little I wanted to be a lot of things (veterinarian, hairdresser, actress) but I also wanted to be a teacher. My mom was a teacher and I would use all her leftover workbooks and supplies to play school. I even had a miniature chalkboard that hung in our basement play area.
Question: What challenges have you faced to get where you are?
Answer: I think the challenges that I have faced are ones that most people of my generation face. This includes having to rid yourself of SOME of the idealism that you grew up with in order to figure out how to make change in the REAL world. I spent a long time stubbornly holding onto my “it SHOULD be like this” and “it SHOULD be like that.” At some point you have to realize that the world is frustrating and unfair and you’ve got to come to grips with that before you can actually make any lasting change.
Question: Who are your role models/inspirations?
Answer: I’ve had teachers that have always been role models. My high school cultural studies teacher was the first person who I met that had actually lived abroad (she taught English in Japan) and she sparked my interest in international studies and introduced me to the subject of anthropology. Then my university professor and advisor introduced me to cultural anthropology through her work in Darfur and Indonesia. Both women were strong, independent, and forever curious about the world and the people in it.
Question: What are some of your favorite books/shows/movies?
Answer: I love watching all kinds of documentaries but I also like to watch funny shows and movies like Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, and the Three Amigos. ☺
Some of my favorite books include ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain, and ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeanette Walls.
Question: Do you have any New Year’s goals 🙂
Answer: Like everyone else I’m trying to be healthier and take better care of myself.
Question: What was the best advice you have received?
Answer: To keep a healthy perspective about things…make sure to keep an eye on the big picture so as not to get bogged down by the little issues that pop up.
Question: We are all about encouraging women to define beauty for themselves instead of accepting labels put on them by others. What is your definition of beauty?
Answer: I think beauty is defined by how you treat people. Kindness, empathy, and service to others is what I consider beautiful.