By CHRISTINA SMAILES
If you have ever been in an airport, you have probably witnessed human trafficking.
You may have seen a woman at check- in not making eye contact, never speaking, always within reach of her owner’s heavy hand.
If you were a witness and did nothing about it, forgive yourself. Most people have not been taught how to recognize human trafficking victims. Instead, the victimization of women and children continues right in front of our eyes.
This issue of human trafficking is too important to avoid. I follow the Washington Legislature’s work on this issue religiously. Recently it passed yet another bill meant to safeguard potential human trafficking victims. I say “yet another” because of the handful of vigorous bills that the Legislature has signed into law since 2002.
In spite of these laws, we have never had a single conviction for human trafficking in Washington.
Helen Clemente became a victim of human trafficking in 1990, when she was forced into a sham marriage by Eldon Doty, an ex-Seattle police officer. The marriage ensured her illegal entry into the United States, after which she was subjected to indentured servitude for three years as Doty’s maid.
She later escaped, only to see her persecutor granted criminal immunity in exchange for helping the federal government with Clemente’s deportation and criminal proceedings, as reported by the Washington State Task Force Against Trafficking of Persons 2004 Report.
Clemente had contact with people every day. At the grocery store, at church or getting the mail, people no doubt witnessed her victimization and could have taken steps to help her. But nobody realized they were witnessing a crime.
Forced labor is just one of several kinds of human trafficking. While all are bad, sex trafficking is certainly the most horrific and most prevalent. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported in 2006 that more than 80 percent of trafficking victims are female, and 50 percent are under age 18.
An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 young girls are smuggled into the United States from other countries annually, as reported by the Polaris Project Action Center. Other victims may be runaways from U.S. families. The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that thousand of American runaway children become ensnared in human trafficking every year.
The public can ensure that people like Helen Clemente are not supressed into forced labor or any kind of human trafficking by just being aware. By being vigilant about the situations of those who surround us, we can help identify cases of human trafficking. The following list describes common characteristics of human traffickers and their victims:
• Perpetrators and victims are most frequently of the same ethnicty.
• Victims are of all ethnicities, but especially Asian, Latino and white.
• Victims are frequently females under the age of 18.
• Perpetrators are usually males of any age (18 years old and up).
• Perpetrators exhibit extreme control over victims, frequently emotionally and physically.
• Victims are rarely allowed to interact with anyone.
• Victims exhibit fear and depression.
• Victims often conceal evidence of physical harm (such as bruises and burns).
• Victims are rarely more than an arm’s length away from their perpetrator when in transit.
If you witness a situation that meets these criteria, call 911 immediately if the victim is in transit, or call the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN) at 206-245-0782. WARN is useful for aiding long-term victimization, such as the case of Helen Clemente.
Laws against human trafficking, such as the one passed by the Legislature, have little chance of success unless the public steps up to help. You are the last resource available to these victims.
Christina Smailes, a senior at Pacific Lutheran University, is interning for the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association in Olympia.
On the Web
Learn more about human trafficking at www.actioncenter.polarisproject.org.