We hope you never have to ask yourself “is my friend a trafficking victim?” Trafficking is a growing issue in the United States, particularly in Houston, Texas, where our office is located. If you’re worried that a friend or loved one is a victim of trafficking, it can be hard to recognize the warning signs, and you might not know what you can do to help.
If you want to help a friend who might be a victim of trafficking, you first need to know what trafficking is.
What Constitutes Trafficking?
Many of us don’t really understand what trafficking is unless it happens to someone close to us. Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Trafficking is something that happens to men, women and children all over the world and has been increasing here within the United States. Traffickers may use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. If you know someone who is being controlled and forced to work or perform sex acts and does not have a legal immigration status they should contact an immigration attorney experienced in handling human trafficking cases.
What are Signs Someone is a Victim of Trafficking?
Trafficking victims have different experiences, but there are some common experiences or warning signs that you can look out for if you are worried about someone you know:
- Lack of stable/permanent address – a trafficking victim may be moved from location to location by traffickers
- Housing is provided by employer – a trafficking victim may be provided housing by an employer who controls when they leave for work and go back home, or an abusive partner or sex trafficker who controls their ability to leave
- Lack of control of documents and/or money – traffickers often restrict their victims’ ability to leave their situation or get help by controlling their access to their passport, ID, work permit, or other documents and/or controlling their access to money they have or earn.
- Isolation – traffickers isolate their victims so they do not have anyone to confide in and their friends and loved ones don’t know what’s actually happening to them
- Working extremely long hours
- Shows signs of alcohol or drug abuse – one way traffickers exert control over victims is by getting them addicted to drugs and/or forcing them to drink in excess
In addition to those listed above, there are lots of other indicators of trafficking that you can also watch for. Be aware that even children who attend school can be victims of trafficking.
Forced to Work, Threatened by Employer, or Had Money Taken Out of Your Paycheck?
Do you know someone who is undocumented and has been working in difficult or dangerous conditions? If you’ve tried to speak to anyone in this situation, you might be surprised to find that they don’t see anything wrong with their situation. Some people believe that because they are here in the United States without legal status, any person that allows them to work is giving them an opportunity or trying to help.
However, some employers place people in dangerous conditions or use threats of deportation or even physical harm to workers or their families if they do not come to work or do not do everything the employer expects. These are examples of labor trafficking.
If someone you know has been forced to work, not paid for work that they did, had an employer take money from their paycheck for things that the employer says they “owe”, or had the employer threaten to call immigration and have them arrested or deported, there may be ways to help.
If you believe someone you know is undocumented and in a situation involving labor trafficking, encourage them to talk to an experienced immigration lawyer about their options. They may also need to seek help from a labor and employment lawyer to try to recover unpaid wages.
What Can I Do if My Friend is a Trafficking Victim?
If someone you know suddenly appears disconnected from family, friends or community they may possibly be a victim of human trafficking. Traffickers often try to isolate their victims from their family and friends so that the trafficker can have complete control.
Another indication that your friend may be a trafficking victim is that they may show signs of being coached as to what they should say and defer questions asked to them to someone who they now are constantly with. The trafficker might also restrict your friend’s freedom of movement and deny them food, water, sleep and or medical care. If you believe that a friend may be the victim of human trafficking you should contact law enforcement to express your concerns or observations, Do not approach the suspected trafficker directly.
If you think someone you know is a victim of trafficking, you can read more about the signs here. If you know someone who is undocumented or has a temporary visa or work permit who is a victim of trafficking, they should speak with an immigration attorney to see what immigration options may be available to them.
Why Don’t Trafficking Victims Come Forward?
We often meet people who share a piece of their struggle here in the United States with us. Surprisingly, many disclose trafficking incidents only when pressed about them – they often tell us that they do not believe these incidents matter, or that they happen to lots of people and aren’t a big deal. Besides minimizing their experiences, some victims feel that they can’t prove what has happened, so trying to take action is pointless. This is NOT true. Other times, victims are concerned about bringing attention to themselves if they are undocumented. See Common Concerns of Victims by Houston Lawyer for victims of crime, trafficking, and domestic violence or abuse, Kathryn N. Karam, P.C., of Karam Immigration law.
Houston Lawyer for Victims of Crime, Trafficking, and Domestic Violence or Abuse
Whether there are documents or other evidence or not, and regardless of someone’s immigration status, incidents of trafficking do matter, and if you know someone who may be a victim of trafficking, we can help with their immigration case. If someone you know fits in one of these categories, have them call our office to schedule a consultation with Houston Lawyer for victims of crime, trafficking, and domestic violence or abuse, Kathryn N. Karam, P.C., of Karam Immigration law. Se habla espanol.