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Look Beneath the Surface

“Most of our cases are not ‘black and white.’ They fall into gray areas that are not always easy to prove.” – Houston Law Enforcement Officer

The most common and perhaps obvious challenge to identifying victims of human trafficking for those in the field is the hidden nature of the crime. Many international victims are brought into the country illegally with traffickers using their illegal entry as a form of control. Such victims are usually unaware of their rights as victims. Meaning, they don’t understand United States laws or the English language. All these factors (among others) help to control the victim and keep the crime (and the victim) hidden. Both international and domestic victims are often kept isolated with no freedom of movement. Contact with the outside world is controlled by the trafficker and often limited to those working for the trafficker, other victims, and in the case of sex trafficking, the johns. Victims become dependent on the trafficker and may not even consider themselves to be victims; another factor making identification difficult.

While difficult to identify because of the hidden nature of the crime, many sectors of our community have the potential to come in contact with a victim of human trafficking. For example, we know victims of sex trafficking are at risk for the same types of injuries as victims of domestic violence and rape. They frequently contract sexually transmitted infections or become pregnant.

So it’s not surprising that law enforcement often ask clinics and emergency room personnel for help in identifying victims. Good citizens are also a great resource in identifying victims if they are little observant of their surroundings. Here are some questions to help identify a victim of human trafficking, created by the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition (an non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims rebuild their lives):

  • What type of work do you do?
  • Are you being paid?
  • Can you leave your job?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you or your family been threatened?
  • What is your working and living condition like?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom
  • Are there locks on your doors/windows that you cannot unlock?
  • Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?

People are encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) to report any information about human trafficking; 1-888-3737-888. 24 Hours a day, 7 days a week.

Alright, not exactly possible to directly ask the questions above. So girls, next time you get your nails done, just pay attention to how the manager treats the employees when they think no one’s looking. Then, maybe ask that person (the employee helping you) if they like living in our city or if they get to visit their family back in their country; really pay attention to how they answer and their body language. Guys, y’all do the same when you get a haircut. Who knows what you might find out?


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