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Human trafficking is a crime.  It occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging them in commercial sex acts or labor or services against their will. While human trafficking can affect anyone, traffickers actively prey on vulnerable individuals who are disproportionately affected by poverty, economic crises, discrimination, and other marginalization.

Victims of human trafficking are often abused and forced to work against their will in commercial sex work and many labor sectors – such as construction, cleaning and restaurants. Tens of thousands of people are trafficked into the United States annually, and U.S. citizens are trafficked in even higher numbers.

What is HT

In June 2007, My Sisters’ Place was designated by the state as the regional service provider for human trafficking, which allowed us to create our Human Trafficking Program.  This was after many years of our staff had observed that many of our clients had additional layers of trauma, victimization, and survivor experiences that were similar to intimate partner violence, but slightly different.  We looked beneath the surface.  We knew that even though we may not have had the language or tools or precedent to be fluent in human trafficking, we knew we could do what MSP does best: support survivors in times of crisis.

Victims can be anyone – men, women, transgender people, and children of all ages, religions, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and gender identities; U.S. citizens; foreign nationals, documented, undocumented.

Our clients have been trafficked into as many industries as you can imagine –Trafficked people are in the house next door and in our local businesses in every one of our towns.

Hua’s Story

 

In our community, you won’t see trafficked people in chains and shackles. Instead, they are hidden in plain sight. Many are recruited by American companies in their home countries and enter the United States with valid work visas, signed work contracts and dreams of getting their families out of extreme poverty.

This happened to Hau, a 45 year old man, who was excited at the prospect of a steady job opportunity.  Within three days of his arrival in the U.S., his employer, a bi-national real estate contractor, confiscated Hau’s passport and work contract and made Hau work long hours, and did not pay Hau as promised. Hau was not provided with safety equipment and he was injured on the job more than once. Hau slept on the floor of a windowless room next to the trafficker’s garage and had no furniture, heat, or ventilation – the trafficker monitored and controlled his coming and going. The trafficker would became threatening and violent if Hau asked for the promised wages, breaks or medical attention. The trafficker verbally berated Hau each day and told him that if he tried to escape or seek help, it would “be the end of him and his family.” The threat was very real to Hau because the trafficker’s recruiter knows exactly where Hau’s family lives and recruits in Hau’s village on a regular basis.

Hau reached a breaking point one day and remembered that the Embassy had given him a brochure that talks about labor exploitation and human trafficking, and borrowed a co-worker’s cell phone and called the police. The police transported him to My Sisters’ Place shelter and he is now working with our human trafficking and legal programs.

 

Natalie’s Story

 

Those who have survived human trafficking often face a difficult journey to recovery.  Traffickers may try to physically hurt, intimidate, and stop victims from leaving and often resort to stalking in attempts to re-traffick them.

Natalie, a U.S. citizen, met a man named David, who would later become her husband and father of her two children. David was charming and showered her with attention and affection.  It was the perfect love story, but he soon began to threaten her, use the history of her sexual trauma against her, verbally and emotionally abuse her, and physically harm her.   He forced her to work for him in strip clubs, hotels, private homes, and escort services across the United States.  He got her hooked on heroin and alcohol, beat her, had dogs attack her, starved her, and kept her isolated from her children and family. David wouldn’t let her go and he stalked her every move.  Natalie tried to escape too many times to count, but he always found her.  One day, David showed up as she was leaving a laundromat after hearing she was making a plan to run, pointed a gun at her, and pulled the trigger.  Natalie was struck with a bullet in her chest.  An innocent bystander was fatally shot.  David was sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter and attempted murder, but she was still not safe.

He sent an associate named Jonah to take his place.  He brought her to a motel and threatened to kill her children if she didn’t comply.  Natalie was forced to perform sex acts on men up to 20 times per day and turn over the money to Jonah.  She was raped repeatedly each day and physically abused by her trafficker when she didn’t reach her quota or was too injured or ill to leave the house.  Jonah berated her sense of self and convinced Natalie that she was worth nothing.  The last time he beat her, he left her for dead and she woke up covered by a sheet in a dark, cold room.  Natalie couldn’t bear the abuse anymore and with the help of a friend, made her way to the bus while bleeding and didn’t look back.

Referred by a hospital in New York, Natalie ended up at MSP’s emergency shelter where she was connected with a case manager and supportive services.  Natalie was in such extreme fear that her traffickers were hunting her, as they had before, that she suffered major panic and anxiety attacks and she adamantly believed that she would be killed if she went to the police.  MSP staff helped her process her experiences and validated her for the first time in her life.  In the safe space that was provided to her, she disclosed a lifetime of neglect, abandonment, abuse, addiction, loneliness, and fear; she also found spiritual support her in faith and reconnected with some of her family members.  Her children are safe and in college.  Natalie secured public benefits and was able to address her medical, mental health, and dental needs for the first time in 19 years.

Natalie continues to be safe and supported, but it has not been an easy road. She recently presented her case manager with a letter that said:

I, Natalie, promise to continue reaching my goals:

Get better. Stay on medications. Counseling. Get to transitional housing program. Start school. DO NOT GO BACK TO JONAH

What You Can Do

 

7 Ways to Help End HT