by Joycelyne Fadojutimi

 

Most consider the despicable institution of slavery as long-dead, but today’s flesh markets are bringing in billions of dollars as millions of unfortunates world-wide are trapped in the ghastly cycle of human trafficking. Here in America, dealers employ coercion, violence, threats, deception, debt bondage and other means of manipulation to force people into commercial sex, labor or other services. It happens in East Texas, too.

“Domestic trafficking is a crime our society simply cannot tolerate,” said Ann Hugman with Longview’s Zonta Club. “For years, it has lurked outside of [the] public’s awareness or has been ignored.”

Longview’s Zonta Club has spent the past four years working to educate the public on all facets of this situation.

“Members of our organization have worked tirelessly and put forth considerable resources to raise awareness and have teamed up with our law enforcement to fight sex trafficking,” said Hugman.

The Zonta Club of Longview has recently concentrated on EMS, firefighters and emergency room personnel to teach them to recognize signs of sex trafficking they might personally witness during their duty. Hugman reports the project’s four educational sessions were very well attended with participants reporting on specific instances they had witnessed during emergency calls. These healthcare specialists have made a request to Zonta and Zonta has agreed.

“As a community, it will take all of us to open our eyes and report suspicious behavior,” said Hugman. “I want to thank our Longview Fire Department, Longview Regional Hospital, and Community Healthcare for attending, getting involved and becoming our partners as we fight this growing scourge.”

Sexual-oriented slavery is not uncommon. It is a miserable existence for the victims as they earn the money that makes their pimps wealthy. In a 2014 report, the Urban Institute revealed the underground sex economy ranged from $39.9 million annually in Denver to $290 million in Atlanta. Federal law establishes that anyone under age 18 who is induced into commercial sex is legally defined as victim of sex trafficking even if the trafficker does not use force, fraud or coercion.

Situations that lead to sex trafficking are varied. Some victims start out by becoming romantically involved with a dealer who then forces or manipulates them into prostitution. Some become entrapped by promises of a job like exotic dancing or modeling. Some are forced to prostitute themselves by their own parents or other family members. The time victims spend ensnared in this horrid situation ranges from days to years. Victims may be American citizens, foreign nationals, men, women, children and LGBTQ individuals.

 

Traffickers’ favorite victims are runaways, homeless youth, those fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault, war, and those displaced by social discrimination. These victims come from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. They may be documented or undocumented and have diverse educational levels. Foreign nationals who have paid high recruitment and travel fees may find themselves deeply in debt and hence vulnerable to trafficking. U.S. law places favored human trafficking sufferers into three main categories:

 

  1. Children under 18 induced into commercial sex.
  2. Adults 18 and over induced into commercial sex via force, fraud or coercion.
  3. Children and adults induced to perform labor or services through force, fraud or coercion.

 

Traffickers control and manipulate these individuals by leveraging the non-portability of work visas as well as exploiting victims’ unfamiliarity with their new surroundings, laws, rights, culture and languages. There are multiple challenges victims face when it comes to escaping their situations. Traffickers may confiscate their money, identification documents and communication devices. Traffickers frequently relocate their slaves, keeping them unclear as to their locations. Since of the victims may not speak the area’s language hence, have great difficulty seeking assistance. Also, because of their very situations these unfortunates have a hard time reaching out for help simply because it is so difficult for them to trust others. Many Americans do not fully understand the very essence of human trafficking.

The Texas attorney general’s website defines this crime as distinct and separate from smuggling. It is not just foreign nationals who are victimized. The offense also encompasses American citizens hijacking other American citizens into slavery within U.S. territorial borders. Smuggling is defined strictly as criminally crossing an international border, such as someone paying someone else to take them across a border. In this case, both persons are committing a crime because the one being transported is doing so voluntarily. Smuggling become trafficking when the person being transported is compelled to labor by force, fraud or coercion. This includes threats to turn someone over to immigration authorities.

Trafficking is a crime against an individual and can happen anywhere. Victims can even be trafficked in their own homes. An example would be a woman who brings men into her home to have sex with her underaged child. In trafficking, therefore, only the trafficker is committing a crime because the trafficked victim is forced into this prostitution. The attorney general’s website defines four categories of human trafficking:

 

  1. Trafficking of adults for forced labor such as agriculture, food service, factory work, or sales.
  2. Trafficking of adults for sex, such as in strip clubs, brothels, massage parlors, street or internet prostitution.
  3. Trafficking of children under age 18 for forced labor.
  4. Trafficking of children under 18 for sex by any means regardless of whether

force, fraud or coercion is employed.

 

Dr. Claire Renzetti, Ph.D. was keynote speaker at Longview Zonta Club’s training seminar. She spoke clearly and with conviction on this situation and what to do about it.

“In Longview, people are interested in addressing this problem because they care for the community, and the awareness by Zonta is a step in the right direction,” she said. “It is important to pay attention to one’s surroundings. In the words of the Department of Homeland. ‘If you see something, say something.'”