A conversation with Human Trafficking advocate Amanda Mohl
Amanda Mohl is the Anti-Trafficking Community Coordinator at International Institute of St. Louis, which focuses on refugee resettlement and immigrant services. Through a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the International Institute manages the St. Louis Rescue and Restore Coalition. The Institute also provides funding and technical assistance to United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) in Southeast Missouri so they can run the Southeast Missouri Rescue and Restore Coalition. Both coalitions focus on outreach and education with the ultimate goal of identifying victims. Amanda’s job involves educating the public about human trafficking, increasing public awareness, outreach, and coalition building. Her end goal is to increase identification of trafficking victims, who themselves sometimes don’t even realize they are victims. Victims brought to the United States to work, for example, might not be familiar with our labor laws and might think their situation is normal. So, it is important for Amanda to ask the right questions and develop relationships with communities whose members might be at risk of exploitation.
Amanda is on the front lines fighting against human trafficking here in St Louis. Her “typical day” includes reaching out to various communities throughout the area– keeping up with her contacts in those communities, and making sure she is present at their events. She organizes presentations and writes curriculum to teach different groups according to their needs and what will resonate with them. She works directly with immigrant communities, building trust and offering resources should they need them.
At a recent event to raise awareness about human trafficking, Amanda spoke about what she does and what the trafficking situation looks like in St Louis. Here are a few things that really stood out to me:
- Here in St Louis, there is a large amount of Hispanic males who are victimized in the landscaping, construction, and industrial cleaning sectors.
- Debt bondage is a common form of labor trafficking. Recruiters charge anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 to bring workers here LEGALLY (in a recent Urban Institute study, it was reported that over 70% of victims talked to were brought to the US on a LEGAL visa), where they then charge victims a huge interest rate on the amount owed, along with other “fees” for the use of tools, housing, etc. No matter how long
a victim works, the debt is never totally paid off.
- Many times, the victim’s visa is tied to the employer. So the trafficker has A LOT of control over the victim.
I had a chance to sit down with Amanda and talk about what she does, why she does it, and– of course– her definition of beauty.
Question: Human trafficking is undoubtedly a big problem. But just HOW big seems to be tricky to pin down–there are so many numbers floating around out there. I have read that there as many as 30 MILLION victims of trafficking worldwide today. Is that an accurate estimate? And how are these estimates made?
Answer: Really the only solid numbers we have are the numbers of people HELPED. There is work currently being done at Washington University to find a more reliable way to produce statistics, but right now it is very tricky. Looking at the number of human trafficking cases, for instance, isn’t as reliable as it might sound. Human trafficking is sometimes hard to prove in court, so prosecutors might go for a lesser charge that is more likely to get a conviction rather than risk losing a case and letting the trafficker back on the streets.