Labor Trafficking: A Hidden Crime in The West

Human trafficking is often described as a modern day slavery, yet it encompasses more than one might think. Is this happening in our area, in our own backyards? The answer might surprise you.

Given the hidden nature of this crime, global and national statistics on human trafficking are merely estimates and vary greatly. However, it is clear that this crime is occurring at significant rates and affecting thousands, if not millions of vulnerable individuals.

Human trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat of the use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”.

In other words, someone is forced or coerced for the purpose of labor or sex trade and the trafficker benefits monetarily from that exploitation.

Although human trafficking is often broken down into two separate categories (labor and sex), it is important to note that the most experiences of human trafficking involve both types of exploitation.

The trafficking of women and girls into the sex trade often receives the most attention in the media, but human trafficking is much broader than that.

In fact, labor trafficking is just as prevalent in Western New York where cases have been identified at restaurants, constructions sites, car washes, farms, convenient stores, hotels, and even within homes through domestic servitude.

“Labor trafficking is more than just farm work,” Ann Breidenstein said. She is the Human Trafficking Case Manager at the International Institute of Buffalo.

Breidenstein said labor trafficking manifests in different ways based on the industry. For example, labor trafficking on a farm may look very different than a restaurant, nail salon, carnival or convenient store.

Labor trafficking is often difficult to identify and investigate, however when people are aware of the warning signs it helps identification of victims immensely.

What are the signs that someone may be a victim of human trafficking? The following is a list of potential indicators and red flags.

(1) someone is not free to come and go from their living arrangements as they wish, (2) someone is unpaid, paid very little, is only paid through tips or owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off, (3) someone lacks medical care or is denied medical services by employer, (4) someone was recruited by false promises concerning the nature of their work, (5) someone has few personal belongings, does not control their own identification documents or finances, or (6) someone exhibits unusual fear or anxiety surrounding a discussion of law enforcement.

The presence of these red flags is an indication that further assessment is necessary to identify a potential human trafficking situation. Contact the resources listed below if you believe someone you know may be a potential victim of human trafficking.

The International Institute of Buffalo’s Survivor Support Services Department has been assisting survivors of Human Trafficking since 2007 and had served more than 500 victims from 40 different counties of origin since its inception.

The Survivor Support Services department has now grown to serve United States Citizens and minors in addition to any foreign born survivor of human trafficking.

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