I attended a RMMWA (Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America) meeting last week on human trafficking. The information was eye opening. Some of it I knew, but much of it I didn't. So I thought I'd pass it along since I keep talking to people who say they're including some aspect of human trafficking in their books/stories. Be aware that it's a heavy and depressing topic.
The presenter was Brittany Austin, from LCHT (Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking.)
Her initial definition of human trafficking: A severe form of exploitation for labor (including sex) through the use of fraud, force, or coercion.
There are three categories:
1. Those under 18 involved in commercial sex acts (probably the one we hear most about).
2. Those 18 and over involved in commercial sex acts through force, fraud, or coercion.
3. Those forced to perform labor and/or other services in conditions of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery through force, fraud, or coercion (the one I think fewest people consider when thinking of trafficking.)
An incident must involve one of the following (not one from each category, just one of any of these) to qualify:
Action: Recruit, Harbor, Transport, Provide, Obtain
Means: Force, Fraud, Coercion
Purpose: Commercial Sex Acts OR Labor or Services
Some examples that you might not think of in terms of the means are things like threatening to deport someone, threatening to hurt a family member, or even using a type of blackmail where you threaten to reveal something private and/or embarrassing.
**Sex acts can include stripping and other similar acts, not just prostitution.**
Trafficking often uses a person's needs that are not being fulfilled to coerce them. (Examples: "I'll be the mom you've never had," "I'll marry you so you," "We'll be your family.") Teens/kids will do something to help their single mom, as another example. Those silly ads we see on lamp posts that offer excessively high pay for a mystery job are often targeting youth.
Some simplified examples of how they use a person's needs to get them to perform labor, etc.:
1. Someone suffering from abuse/neglect will fall for the offer of a relationship of some sort.
2. Someone who is homeless will fall for offers of food, shelter, and family.
3. Someone with a marginalized identity can be coerced with acceptance.
4. Someone with an inability to access the job market can be coerced with offers of income.
**Marginalized communities are especially vulnerable**
Immigrant labor force makes up 22% of Colorado's labor force.
Many people know or have some manner of relationship with their trafficker. Interfamilial pimping is a big thing. Arranged marriages can also be examples of human trafficking in some circumstances.
Trafficking tends to come across as being about young females, often white (the white slave trade, etc.). This is what is most often depicted in fiction. However, it is young and old, male and female, white and people of color. It can be anyone.
Sean Crumpler was a human trafficker caught in Colorado. He ended up sentenced to 50 years. He had ten to fifteen LGBT+ boys between the ages of 16 and 21 in his home. Some of them had disappeared from California. In exchange for food, shelter, and gifts, they had to capitulate to his sexual needs.
Ski resorts, agricultural areas, and construction sites are places where immigrants are often recruited directly from their country and brought up to Colorado to be forced into a type of indentured servitude. Often, they get here with promises of a job and somewhere to stay, only to discover their wages are garnished for the transportation, the building they're required to stay in, food, etc. As they continue to work there, they continue to rack up dues, never making enough money to be able to escape. In one local case, the only time they were allowed out of the disgusting building they were being kept in was for work and church attendance on Sundays. A nun noticed their degenerating conditions and reported it, which is how they were found. Not only were they being held due to debt, but their families were threatened. When the perpetrator got out, he kept good to his promises, and traveled to Mexico to go after family members.
Something I've dealt with personally is teens that answer those mysterious ads promising tons of money. They are then transported somewhere for "training," only to discover they're now far from home, often unsure of where they even are, and that they owe money for the transportation and training after the fact. These are the teens you see knocking on doors and selling things like magazine submissions that are not for a local school (for example). They are typically being dropped off in neighborhoods, and must make a certain amount of sales if they want to eat that night. They will be picked up many hours later and taken to a hotel room or similar place, where they all stay in one room. They often have no means to try to reach out to family (or have no family to reach out TO). I've seen these kids selling in my area before, and when I looked up the company they worked for, this exact situation was described. All I knew to do at the time was ask the boy if he was okay. I wish I'd known more about this and had offered to call someone for him or get him to safety somehow.
Here are some red flags and indicators:
- Unexplained injuries
- Evidence of prolonged infection or untreated injuries
- Repeated bacterial, yeast, STI infections
- Dental issues
- Exposure, repeated motion injuries
- Cardiovascular and respiratory problems
- Tattoo branding (there are Denver tattoo parlors that have contracted with people to brand the people they are trafficking, and this likely exists all over the U.S.)
- Evidence of sexual trauma
- Not making eye contact
- Individuals not in control of their own identification documents
- Someone claiming to speak for or on behalf of a victim
- Individual has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story and/or exhibits a loss of sense of time or place
- Individual claims to be visiting, but has no real understanding of where they are or even where they're from
- Youth having relationships with older unexplained adults
- Individual with no idea when his/her last last medical/dental checkup was
- Individual exhibiting PTSD symptoms
- May be in crisis or downplaying injury/illness
- Confused/out of it
Some additional facts:
25% of children worldwide are victims of modern slavery
Women and girls make up 71% of modern slavery victims
Debt bondage affected half of all victims of forced labor imposed by private actors.
In Colorado, you can call 866-455-5075 or text 720-999-9724 to report suspected human trafficking. LCHT.
Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance: 303-861-1160.
You can visit the website for the National Human Trafficking Hotline for more information, including stats in your own state.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be called at 888-373-7888 or texted at 233733.
Now for some links. Please bear in mind that I'm not endorsing them, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.
Dragon Soul Press has a number of anthologies open for submissions. The one closing soonest is Organic Ink: Volume 2. No theme, just poems. Pays in royalties. Deadline September 30.
Backpacker is seeking off-the-trail stories from true lovers of the wilderness. There are many categories freelancers can break into. Pays $.40 to $1.00/word.
Funicular Magazine is seeking "quality fiction and poetry that shocks, surprises, moves, and tickles us." Pays $25/piece to $10/printed page, depending upon submission type.
Flash Fiction Magazine is seeking flash fiction of 300-1000 words. Pays $40 per story in their anthology, but nothing for those published online.
Dream of Shadows is seeking fantasy and horror short stories. Up to 1500 words. Pays £20 per piece.
Did you learn anything new about trafficking? Did you know how widespread it was? Any submission links of interest to you? Anything to share?
May you find your Muse.