Tackling Trafficking from Staten Island to the U.K.
As part of a series on human trafficking, How to Free Modern Slaves, the Christian Science Monitor is sharing stories of courageous survivors and those that help them find freedom. The latest entries focus on labor trafficking in domestic service and alliances between religious groups and police to combat traffickers.
As the Monitor reports, an estimated two million people in the United States work in the domestic service industry as nannies, maids, and cooks, to name a few. A significant portion is trafficked labor. Hidden behind closed doors, they are the most susceptible to physical and sexual abuse. Employers often confiscate personal documents, such as work visas and identification cards, to hold the threat of deportation over workers to prevent them from reporting abuses to police.
Yet despite the forced isolation, trafficked domestic workers are getting out. And thanks to victim assistance organizations, they are also rebuilding their lives. The article shares the story of Jing, a Filipino woman hired in Qatar, brought to the United States, and forced into slavery in a Staten Island home for over a year. Afraid to trust the police, it was not until another former victim counseled her via phone that she gained the courage to tell her story and leave her captors.
One of the ways traffickers retain control over victims is to threaten them with the police, telling them that if the police knew of their legal status, they would be deported and returned to their former home, penniless. The tactic not only keeps the victim working, but also creates a distrust of police, insulating the trafficker from prosecution.
The voice on the other end of the phone that changed Jing's mind belonged to a Filipina member of Damyan Migrant Workers Association, a grassroots New York-based organization that helps Filipino victims of human trafficking in the domestic service sector. The group, one of many victim assistance organizations operating today, works case by case, helping law enforcement identify trafficked labor, then providing survivors with shelter, legal aid, psychiatric help, and employment once they are free.
The latest entry in the Monitor series focuses on the efforts of abolitionist churchgoers and police in England. The partnership, part of the international Bakhita Initiative, is an anti-trafficking alliance between the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and London's Metropolitan Public Service. It addresses many major roadblocks to eliminating modern slavery, including identifying victims.
Like Jing above, victims rarely trust police, so finding reliable intelligence on where trafficking is occurring is hard to come by. Yet through the work of passionate churchgoers and church officials, more and more victims are discovered or are coming forward. And when they get out of their horrifying situation, they receive more support from the community and from police. Part of this is due to the 2015 passage of Britain's Modern Slavery Act, which was adopted to more efficiently target and prosecute traffickers, but the hard work of passionate members of the church community has proven essential. In fact, collaboration between the community and police has seen rousing success in England: In 2013-2014, records show 226 human trafficking prosecutions, more than doubling cases from 2010-2011.
As the Christian Science Monitor series demonstrates, anti-trafficking efforts are more successful when undertaken together. Law enforcement cannot end the scourge of human trafficking alone—leaders in business, the community, and civil society must join in to ensure traffickers end up behind bars, and trafficking survivors can reclaim their lives.
For more information on Human Rights First's approach, read our blueprint How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking.