January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. To better understand this tragically pervasive issue and learn more about the critically important efforts being made to curtail it, the Black Information Network spoke with Anita S. Teekah, Esq. of Safe Horizon.
"National Human Trafficking Prevention Month is a month that commemorates a crime that happens every single day, all over the world," Teekah, who serves as the Senior Director of Safe Horizon's Anti-Trafficking Program, said.
"This month is meant to shine a light on and raise awareness on a wide-spread victimization that a lot of people have heard of, but don't really understand the complexities of," Teekah added.
"Human trafficking can affect everybody," the expert explained, "and it requires everybody be aware so that we can do our part to mitigate it."
When asked about how Covid-19 impacted human trafficking, Teekah said, "the one constant is that human trafficking existed before Covid, continued during Covid, and will be here after Covid, unfortunately."
Teekah explained that a lot of trafficking is linked to labor exploitation and that before the pandemic, there wasn't such as much awareness on the essential workers who keep global economies moving, but who are also at risk of labor trafficking.
"The pandemic really highlighted the inequities that a lot of those workers face and we do see human trafficking and labor exploitation in a lot of those fields where we have our direct essential services coming from" Teekah said.
That includes people who work in child care, food care, domestic work, delivery drivers, factory workers, agricultural farm workers, and more who are often "invisible" when discussing the "fragility of supply chains."
But those workers, Teekah explained, "are often the ones subjected to labor exploitation and labor trafficking."
Signs of Human Trafficking
There are a few signs of human trafficking that can be seen by others, depending on the type of trafficking.
- People who seem to be controlled by or under the strong influence of another person, who is always by their side, maybe coaching them on what to say
- Someone dressed out of season (for example: wearing shorts or summer clothes in winter)
- If a person looks like they haven't had access to a shower or has matted hair
- Certain tattoos are indicative of sex trafficking
- Chronic injuries that haven't received necessary medical attention
- Paying hospital bills in cash
- Not knowing what your address is or using hotel keys to access your residence
- Hesitancy to speak with anyone (including law enforcement)
Who Can Help
Teekah explained that a lot of victims/survivors of human traffickers seek medical attention at some point, so healthcare workers like doctors, nurses, emergency room intake staff, social workers, and more are considered to be on the front lines to helping identify human trafficking.
Experts never recommend the public physically intervene if they suspect someone is being trafficked because the trafficker could be armed, or have the victim being surveilled, and put the person at risk for more danger.
Instead, if you do suspect someone is being trafficked, Teekah says to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline operated by Polaris and describe what they saw to an operator. A lot of those tips are passed on to law enforcement, and if a victim is identified, either by the person who's calling or if a victim calls themself, Polaris will connect them to locally available services.
"The hotline is your best bet, regardless of where you are in the country," Teekah said.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888