In every community there are heart-breaking stories no one wants to tell, but that must be brought to light to help combat the reality of human and sex trafficking.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Educational Outreach co-hosted a Human Trafficking Awareness Seminar with the Troy Tri-Township Library and Troy-Maryville Chamber on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Troy-Township Library. Erin Heil, author and associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, spoke about human trafficking. Kristen Shinn, director of Community Support Services at Hoyleton Youth and Family Services, addressed the subject of sex trafficking.
More than 40 people, from surrounding communities that included representation from shelters, hospitals, hotels, nonprofit agencies and the Troy Police Department, attended the class.
“I have done extensive research on the topic of human trafficking,” Heil said. “In 2008, I went to Immokalee, Florida, which is ground zero for modern day slavery. The tomato industry is in the area, and there is much agriculture labor trafficking there.”
“Some of the many abuses I came across involved one man getting paid $2 for every ton of tomatoes he picked, and someone getting paid with watermelons. Then there were instances when people did not get any time off.”
Labor trafficking can involve someone having to work to pay off debts or having someone else in control, according to Heil. Labor trafficking can also exist in factories, begging, hotel industry, carnivals, beauty salons and more.
“Southern Illinois and southern Missouri are hot spots for trafficking because of agriculture,” Heil said. “Trafficking can also involve bait and switch, where people are promised well-paying jobs and then end up with menial jobs, or not being paid at all.”
Heil co-authored the book, “Human Trafficking in the Midwest.”
She noted indicators of human trafficking and victims:
- Employees live on the premises
- Employees are transported to work by the employer
- No time clock or hours maintained in ledger by the employer
- Avoids eye contact
- Appears malnourished, exhausted, injured
- Appears submissive or fearful of employer
Many times, there is a crossover between human and sex trafficking, Shinn said. She gave a definition for sex trafficking: “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, providing, or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not yet attained 18 years old.”
Shinn gave several scenarios of sex trafficking. One involved a 13-year-old boy on the run who needs a place to sleep. A man he meets at a party offers him the use of his couch for the night, if the teen will have sex with him.
Shinn then showed a film on sex trafficking that interviewed and followed actual sex traffickers and their victims.
“This film can be emotionally difficult to watch,” she said. “But the subject matter is important to know, and unfortunately, it is critical that we have this conversation with everyone, especially our youth.”
There are aspects of our culture that makes human trafficking possible, or ways in which our society promotes or perpetuates exploitation, Shinn said.
Some of those listed include racism, sexism and misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, “sexualization” of girls and young women, and glorification of pimp culture.
Shinn encouraged the audience to help alleviate the problem: strengthen practices and policies, increase awareness among schools, businesses and social service providers, celebrate clients’ success in their recovery and prosecute trafficking-related charges.
“We are more reactive than proactive. It’s tough to be proactive,” Troy Chief of Police B.A. Parsons said. “We were finally successful in prosecuting a case involving sex trafficking. This is happening in our community, and we promote education and awareness.”
“I had a preconceived idea of what sex trafficking was. I thought that it always involved people being taken by force,” said Charmian Aaron, of Edwardsville, sales manager for TownePlace Suites, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Express & Suites and Comfort Inn. “I didn’t realize that young girls can be groomed and manipulated and contacted through social media.
“The workshop was extremely eye-opening for me,” said the mother of four, ages 2-17. “After what I learned today, I will be spreading this information to our staff, my children and whomever else will listen.”
Linda Alms, of Troy, attended the workshop to gain more information and find out how she could do more.
“This has been heavy on my heart – human trafficking,” Alms said. She and husband, Maurice, a retired Lutheran minister, have 9 adopted children and have fostered 32 children. “I don’t want to walk out of the door and not do anything. I want to see about helping with funding for a women and children’s homeless shelter in Granite City. I also want to tell more people about it in order to generate more interest.
“Sometimes it looks like a ‘Mission Impossible,’ but you have to try to do as much as you can in this life.”