By Holly Redmond, HTC associate
When you think of human trafficking, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you say sex, you are not alone. In recent years we have seen an increase in the awareness given to human trafficking and in turn, a rise in activism aimed at ending the trade. The concern is the almost singular focus that sex trafficking has received, given that it constitutes only an estimated 21.5 percent of human trafficking cases. The purpose here is not to denounce efforts addressing sex trafficking but to broaden perspectives and dialogues to include forced labor and increase recognition that it exists everywhere, even in Colorado.
We hear human trafficking and automatically think sex, prostitution and pimps. We do not consider the possibility that the restaurant owner, the doctor or the farmer down the road could be traffickers as well. In 2009, for example, the Colorado county of Weld awarded $5 million to five migrant farmers who had been smuggled into the U.S. and then held in debt bondage, forced to live in apartments unsuitable for habitation. Their rent and cleaning fees, as well as the money they “owed” for being brought to the U.S., were deducted from their paychecks.
In another case that began in 2009 in Craig, Colo., several Peruvian sheepherders working in the U.S. under the H-2A agricultural visa program filed charges against John Peroulis & Sons Sheep Inc., alleging forced labor abuses. The workers came to Colorado with the promise of a $750 monthly salary in addition to room and board on the ranch. Instead, the workers were forced to pay several thousand dollars to the ranch owners to cover their recruitment and travel expenses and were barely provided enough food to survive. Eventually, they all left the ranch without being paid for their services.
In a more recent case, a man known as Kizzy Kalu brought foreign women to the U.S. promising high-paying nursing jobs. Once in the U.S., Kalu threatened to have their visas revoked if they did not give him $1,200 a month. In July 2013, Kalu was found guilty of human trafficking and forced labor and ordered to serve 130 months in jail.
All three of these Colorado cases are forms of human trafficking, yet none of them involves sex or prostitution. They do, however, involve threats, coercion, violence, false promises and the fear of going to authorities. These are common themes found in all human trafficking cases – forced labor and sex trafficking alike.
So why is forced labor denied the equal amount of attention it deserves? There may be several possible answers to this question:
1) We feel more compassion and anger if the victim is a legal U.S. citizen.
2) The victims of forced labor in the U.S. are often immigrants and migrant workers, both legal and illegal.
3) There is a type of taboo or sensationalist view often attached to sex.
4) We are unwilling to allow ourselves to believe we are perpetuating the cycle of human trafficking by buying products produced by slave labor.
Sex trafficking needs to be addressed and ended, but so does forced labor. I challenge you to expand your perspective, dialogue and knowledge. Be conscious about how the products you wear and the foods you eat are produced. Be aware that regardless of its form, human trafficking can occur in your own town – in the house next door with the quiet housekeeper who never leaves, in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant or at the local farm where your produce is grown. Human trafficking can take on many forms, and we need to begin identifying it in its less-known manifestations if we are going to effectively end it.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC
What do you think? Is the amount of attention given to sex trafficking disproportionate? Should the anti-trafficking community make greater efforts to identify and prosecute forced labor cases?