by Victoria Sebastian | published Jun. 25th, 2020
Illustration by Sara Calhoun
Whenever the word ‘slavery’ is mentioned, your mind likely goes to the Civil War. However, slavery is not just a part of America’s past; it’s an ongoing issue that has many different forms. One of those forms is human trafficking and it can happen to anyone, even in Rochester.
Dr. Celia McIntosh works to help eliminate this slavery in our community as the president of the Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
“One person is trafficked every 30 seconds,” she stated.
“One person is trafficked every 30 seconds.”
McIntosh explained that the trafficking industry is booming largely because people are not reporting incidents.
“Human trafficking would not be able to thrive if there wasn’t such a high demand for it. It is a $150 billion industry,” McIntosh said.
According to McIntosh, cases go unreported mainly because the public is not educated on the topic. With a low risk of being reported and a high reward through profits, human trafficking is growing. So, what is human trafficking? What should we be looking out for?
Sex and Labor Trafficking
There are two forms of human trafficking: sex and labor.
Sex trafficking is the recruiting, harboring, transporting or obtaining of a person for the purpose of commercial sex acts. These acts are induced though force, fraud or coercion.
Labor trafficking follows the same process but for the purpose of labor or services.
The two can also coincide, as McIntosh explained. If someone is being trafficked for sex, they can also be trafficked for labor. And although both are present forms of slavery, sex trafficking is more commonly experienced.
“Sex trafficking accounts for 73 percent of human trafficking,” stated McIntosh.
Human trafficking is also a very relationship-based process — it is not always an abduction situation. Perpetrators will form relationships with their victims so that they can exploit their vulnerabilities.
Am I Vulnerable?
Anyone can be targeted, regardless of your gender, race, sexual orientation or ethnicity. However, some are at a higher risk.
“Things like sexism, racism, classism — they are all foundational to human trafficking,” McIntosh stated.
Those in poverty, runaways, the homeless, individuals with mental illnesses, substance abuse issues or a history with child abuse are all at a higher risk.
Perpetrators make promises to these individuals claiming to have a place to stay or a stable job for them, but quickly flip the switch and exploit their trust.
McIntosh explained, “Some of the traffickers that have been arrested and prosecuted in Rochester … were targeting places where people that are vulnerable go for help.”
Where Can I Be Targeted?
Just as anyone can be targeted, traffickers can also target people anywhere. McIntosh has heard stories of people being targeted in malls, at the bus stop or even at Walmart. They also can venture to places that provide social services and recovery services for drug users to prey on the vulnerable.
However, with a society more reliant on technology, there is one danger area that stands out among the rest.
“Social media is a big way that traffickers can get access to victims,” McIntosh stated.
She shared the story of a girl who met a man over Facebook and ended up sending him nude photos. In the very next conversation, the man began to threaten to post her pictures unless she went to a specific site and did what other men asked her to.
“She was actually being trafficked in her bedroom, on her computer,” McIntosh explained.
The fact that anyone can truly be a target at any place means safety and precaution is essential.
McIntosh reiterated, “Educate yourself on the risk factors and just understand what human trafficking is.”
Luckily, there are other safety precautions you can take as well.
Keeping Yourself and Others Safe
Many students may be familiar with stories that surfaced a year ago regarding traffickers approaching people while claiming to be part of a bible study.
“We didn’t find any credible evidence that that was happening,” stated Lieutenant Thomas Shaw.
Shaw is the chief of staff at the Rochester Police Department, and although these claims turned out to be false, he was glad people stayed cautious.
You should also report something that doesn’t seem right. But, as McIntosh stated, there is a certain way to handle trafficking situations.
“Some people say, ‘How do we rescue these people?’ And the reality of it is that oftentimes that is not the language you use … oftentimes victims do not know they are victims,” she said.
“Oftentimes victims do not know they are victims.”?
If you notice any signs that someone may be the victim of trafficking, talk to them. The police are also a reliable resource.
Shaw explained, “We [the police] are the first line of contact and we move them [victims] to a shelter or some other third party for help.”
However, Shaw also mentioned that victims are not always willing to open up to a random police officer. In this case, providing the individual with the human trafficking hotline is the best option.
When it comes to feeling unsafe yourself, Shaw recommended that individuals go out in groups, walk around in familiar places and let trusted people know where you are and where you are going. You can also carry a weapon such as pepper spray as an extra safety precaution, but make sure you know how properly use what you wield.
Shaw mentioned, “Anything you have on you can be used against you too.”
There are also laws set in place to protect you, even online.
“If someone is posting photos of you without your permission, they can be charged for doing so,” stated Shaw.
If you stay educated about trafficking, notice red flags and take safety precautions when you feel unsafe, you have a secure shield protecting you. However, other people’s shields may not be as strong, so it is important to share the information you know.
As McIntosh stated, “It takes a village to address issues like human trafficking.”
National Human Trafficking Hotline
1 (888) 373 – 7888
Text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733
Are they constantly texting someone?
Are they with someone who talks over them or for them?
Do they have their nails or hair done — something they couldn’t afford in the past?
Do they seem fearful or anxious?
Do they show signs of physical abuse?
If these signs apply, talk with the individual and provide them with resources. Contacting the police is always a good step.