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Congress designates National Day for Human Trafficking Awareness to draw attention to modern day slavery in U.S. & around the world

(Plain Press, January 2010, Holly K. Gigante and Karen Walsh) When we hear the word “slavery,” many of us think of history—Abraham Lincoln, the Civil Rights struggles, maybe the use of prisoners of war forced into slavery in Vietnam, Russia, Japan or elsewhere.

Slavery is a ruthless treatment of human beings — degradation, a holocaust of another’s power. And sadly, January 11th calls it to our attention here and now.

In an effort to raise awareness of modern-day slavery, the United States Congress has set aside January 11th as the National Day for Human Trafficking Awareness. In 2009, it is estimated that there are about 27 million people trapped in the nefarious business of human trafficking. It is happening around the world, in the United States and in Ohio.

According to the Campaign to Rescue & Restore of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ website, “Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Victims of human trafficking are young children, teenagers, men and women. Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders world wide, and between 14,500 and 17,500 of those victims are trafficked into the United States. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and is the fastest growing.”

More than half of victims trafficked into the United States are thought to be children; victims are probably about equally male and female. Victims can come from such places as Asia, India, Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia and Canada. Many victims are also U.S. citizens.

Traffickers have travel routes, connectives, and destinations. Traffickers are both men and women. They may snatch someone outright. They also prey on the poor and needy with deceitful sales pitches and lies about “better places,” a job, or someone who will help them. They obtain travel documents, food and shelter, transport — all to be “repaid” by the victim with whatever work the trafficker provides. Victims, like any slave, are kept under someone else’s control. They are brainwashed and degraded to such a degree that they may even forget that they’ve been deceived, forget the integrity of their personhood.

Victims can be found in brothels, nail salons, truck stops, even at public events. They can be in such domestic situations as nannies, hotel maids, sweatshop factories, janitorial jobs, construction sites, farm work, restaurants — or a house in your neighborhood. Victims are also seen in organ harvesting and, in some parts of the world, as forced recruits for war.

“Like many other states, Ohio has and continues to experience incidents of human trafficking in forms of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation… emerging evidence indicate that it is a source, transit and destination State for trafficked persons”. [Kathleen YS Davis, Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery in Ohio, 2006]

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act [TVPA] of 2000 is a federal law that outlaws trafficking, making it a federal crime, and defines it as the recruitment, harboring, transportation provision, or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act or labor or services through force, fraud, or coercion.

In Ohio, human trafficking is not a specific criminal offense. Amended House Bill 280, passed by the Ohio General Assembly in December 2008, made human trafficking a sentencing enhancement.

The bill also recommended that Ohio’s Attorney General convene a Trafficking in Persons Study Commission to study the problem of human trafficking in Ohio, review its criminal laws, and make recommendations to address the problem, including changes to the criminal code where necessary.

The first meeting of the Trafficking in Persons Study Commission took place in July 2009, and is working through its five subcommittees:  Training and Law Enforcement; Legal and Legislative; Prevention, Outreach and Education; Victim Assistance and Safe Locations; and Research and Analysis.  Additional information will soon be available on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

Begun in 2007, the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking is a group of concerned people in northeast Ohio whose mission is to educate and advocate for the prevention and abolition of human trafficking while connecting services for victims. It was welcomed news to advocates in Cincinnati, Toledo and Columbus—cities that had already formed advocacy groups against trafficking. The Collaborative educates others about the issue by providing programs to university and high school students, social service agencies, health care providers, church groups, professional organizations and the public. It has conducted about a hundred educational seminars throughout Cuyahoga, Lorain, Geauga, Stark, and Summit counties. It has also hosted speakers, sometimes survivors of trafficking, at a number of public forums.

The Collaborative networks with law enforcement, social service providers, and health care organizations so that assistance can be provided to specific victims.

But identifying victims of trafficking is difficult. Many have been moved around and don’t know where they are. They may not know the language, or aren’t sure who to ask for help or who to trust. They are deeply threatened for their life and the lives of their family back home. They are constantly watched. They are abused. The Rescue and Restore Campaign of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department wants to raise the public’s awareness so that we all pay better attention and can help victims. Their logo is “Look Beneath the Surface.”

The Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking encourages the public to learn more about trafficking. Go on line for information from many sources working hard to end trafficking. Read a documentary or biography available in your library. Attend a seminar. Contact the Collaborative office at collaborative_initiative@yahoo.com. If you have any suspicions that an individual is a victim, call the national resource center at 1.888.3737.888.

You may wonder how one person can make a difference about the enormity of this crime, but you can learn about how that has happened, and how it has made all the difference in the world to some victim caught in this miserable trap. We simply must not tolerate slavery.

Editor’s Note: Holly K. Gigante and Karen Walsh are members of the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking. January 11th there will be several National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness Gatherings including the following: 9:30 AM Mass at St. Joseph Center, 3430 Rocky River Drive. Cleveland; and from 6:30-8:00 PM at Humility of Mary Ministry Center,20015 Detroit, Rocky River.

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