[A note to the reader: This article discusses information about human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault. The content may activate strong feelings for some individuals.]

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and while most people do not think of Wellspring’s services being related to human trafficking, they very much are. Our advocates assist several people each year who are being trafficked by someone they loved and trusted. In fact, the very nature of human trafficking is related to sexual assault.

In recognition of the annual prevention month, Wellspring is here to provide you with the information and resources to better identify and address sexual exploitation and labor. Staying informed is the first step to making a difference.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is the recruitment, buying, selling or transportation of a person for the purpose of prostitution and/or labor exploitation. It is the third largest international crime industry and is a form of modern-day slavery.

Who does human trafficking affect?

Human trafficking can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender and location. Traffickers can recruit people in a variety of subtle ways, often taking advantage of people in disadvantaged situations. While anyone can be impacted by trafficking, homeless individuals, those with disabilities, children in foster care and immigrants are at higher risk of being targeted. Those who have experienced trauma or mental health related issues may also be vulnerable to trafficking. Additionally, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by trafficking, accounting for 71% of victims.

What does human trafficking look like and what are the signs?

While this type of sexual and/or labor exploitation can take on many forms, the acts of abuse can look the same. Oftentimes, victims are recruited through intimate partners, family members or familiar individuals who utilize existing power dynamics and vulnerabilities to exploit the individual.

The acts of abuse can be demonstrated by the following tactics:

  • Coercion includes threats to harm the victim or their family, exposing or shaming the victim and/or threatening to report the victim to police or immigration.
  • Intimidation includes harming the victim or family members, using or displaying weapons, destroying property and lying about police involvement in a trafficking situation.
  • Emotional abuse is when the abuser humiliates the victim in front of others, calls them names, plays mind games, makes them feel guilty or convinces the victim they are the only one that cares about them.
  • Isolation is keeping the victim confined, accompanying them in public places, creating distrust among others, not allowing the victim to learn English or attend school and denying them access to family and friends.
  • Denying, blaming & minimizing includes denying anything illegal or exploitative is occurring and placing blame on the victim.
  • Sexual abuse includes using sexual assault as punishment or means of control, forcing the victim to have sex multiple times a day with strangers, treating the victim as an object or normalizing sexual violence.
  • Physical abuse may include shoves, slaps, hits, punches, kicks, strangles, burns, brands, tattoos, withholding food & water, inducing drug addiction or forcing terminating a pregnancy.
  • Using privilege is treating the victim like a servant, using gender, age or race to suggest superiority, and hiding or destroying important documents.
  • Economic abuse includes creating debt that can never be repaid, stealing the victim’s money, prohibiting access to finances or limiting financial resources

If you think you or someone else may be a victim of trafficking, here are the signs to look out for:

  • Being emotional detached or numb
  • Being isolated from friends and family
  • Feeling guilty, shameful or helpless
  • Having bruises, broken bones, burns or scars
  • Not being aware of the date or current location
  • Being unable to leave home or the workplace
  • Losing control of finances or identification documents
  • Having little to no personal possessions
  • Having someone else speak for them

How do human trafficking and domestic violence intersect?

There are many similarities between human traffickers and people who abuse their intimate partners. In many cases, the cycle of abuse and the dynamics of violence are the same. Abusers may build intimate relationships with the victim to maintain control or trust and will later use this to their advantage to convince the victim exploitation is for their benefit.

What can you do?

If you or someone you know is showing signs of human trafficking, domestic violence or sexual assault, Wellspring is here for support. Our advocates can speak with you one-on-one to listen and give information about your rights and options (whether that be a legal response, shelter or connection to additional supports).

Our hotline is available 24/7 by calling 518-584-8188. You can also connect with a Wellspring advocate through our internet-based chat, which is currently available during business hours.

Additionally, you can help by sharing this article to spread awareness about human trafficking and the impact it has on our community. The more we know, the better we are able to stop and prevent abuse from happening.