Know Signs of Labor Trafficking

By Harold D’Souza
Published on January 27, 2016 in Cincinnati

View Article

Harold D’Souza is a Cincinnati resident and anti-trafficking advocate.

It is hard to believe that the person serving you dinner, pumping gas or selling you a carton of milk in the local convenience store might be a victim of human trafficking. That’s part of what makes stopping this crime so difficult.

Modern slavery is almost invisible, yet it exists in communities across America. During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, I hope that Cincinnatians will take a moment to learn about what we can all do to make it more difficult for traffickers to profit from exploiting innocent men, women and children.

More than a decade ago, I moved to Cincinnati, believing my future employer had legally arranged a visa for me to work as a manager for a manufacturing company. The promised job fit my postgraduate education and professional experience in India, and paid well.

Instead, the man picked us up from the airport, took our money and personal documents for “safekeeping” and brought us to a restaurant where we would spend the next 19 months working 15 hours a day, seven days a week – unpaid, and sleeping nearby on the floor of an unfurnished apartment.

With no papers, no knowledge of culture or law, limited English, and under threat of deportation, legal action and violence, it took more than one and a half years before we were able to escape. I tell my story today so that someone else might recognize the signs of bonded labor sooner – for themselves or for someone else.

Debt bondage is one of the most pervasive but least recognized forms of modern slavery. The first step toward ending it is recognizing that it happens everywhere. Once you know that fact, you can watch out for it in your everyday life.

Many victims of labor trafficking are immigrants, and they have been so physically and emotionally intimidated by their traffickers that they’re often fearful of speaking with Americans. If you suspect something is wrong with someone you see regularly in a convenience store, gas station or restaurant, try starting a small conversation. Casual questions like “How do you like working here?” can open the door for a trafficking victim to confide and seek help.

Also, always follow your gut and seek outside help. Call the Greater Cincinnati Human Trafficking Hotline: 513-800-1863, or the National Hotline: 888-373-7888 (or text “HELP” or “INFO” to SMS: 233733).

If you are a trafficking victim currently living in fear, I want you to understand something that I did not when I was being threatened and intimidated: the people exploiting you are criminals who could be charged with felony crimes – they are the ones who should be afraid.

I also want victims to know that community support is available. My family and I received tremendous support from law enforcement agencies, our local parish, and Cincinnati Works, a local nonprofit that helps people find jobs that pay a living wage.

Today, I am fortunate to be a voice for human trafficking victims and survivors. In December, President Obama appointed me to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. Now, trafficking survivors have a formal voice and structure for providing recommendations to the U.S. Government to strengthen federal policies and programs addressing human trafficking. I will advocate for better prevention policies, and for greater investment in making certain trafficking survivors receive the services they need to fully recover.

I will also continue to work in Cincinnati – to bring human trafficking out of the shadows, and to encourage trafficking victims to trust in our community to help them, and to realize that it’s the perpetrators of human trafficking – not their victims – who should be afraid.