Is your neighbor part of human trafficking?

There are people who make bad choices. Then there are people who only have bad choices. They are people under the control of a human trafficker, someone who took control of them, maintained it and then used that control for their own greed.

It’s estimated that 50,000 people a year are trafficked in the U.S., including people brought into the country for that purpose. The trade earns over $32 billion per year putting it line with the huge profits made off illegal gun and drug trafficking. Human trafficking ranks up there with gun and drug trafficking as the largest money making schemes of organized crime.

This ugly crime might be closer to you than you could imagine, whether you live in a major metropolitan area or in a small town. You may question the real business of a massage parlor in town, but did you think of it as human trafficking? Or do you assume everyone there has free will? Movies like “Taken” and “12 Years a Slave” dramatize the cruelty and bondage. But that’s just Hollywood, not a lens into real life, right?

The United Nations Organization on Drugs and Crime recognizes human trafficking as a worldwide epidemic. It has grown into the third largest business of organized crime, falling behind only gun and drug trafficking.

According to U.S. Federal law, human trafficking is defined as:

  • Sex trafficking 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 attained 18 years of age; or
  • The recruitment, harboring, transportation provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

The CNN Freedom Project is more blunt.

“Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence to maintain that control, exploits them economically, pays them nothing and they cannot walk away.”

If you think you could tell whether someone might be a potential kidnapper you would be wrong. If you think you could tell someone is the victim of trafficking you would be wrong again. It is a crime that often can occur right out in the open and no one can tell.

The FBI and other organizations with a mission to fight this ugly crime have discovered cases like Ariel Castro, the Cleveland Ohio man who kept three girls imprisoned in his home for nearly ten years. He literally grabbed each girl off the street. They were bound, sometimes with chains. Over those years he exploited them for sex.

Castro was able to hide the girls almost in plain sight. His own son, Anthony Castro, wrote a story about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus, less than three weeks after it happened. The Plain Press in Cleveland assigned it to him. Despite his attention to the issue he had no idea what was going on in the house even when he visited his father. All he could tell police later was that there were locks on certain doors and he wasn’t allowed in those rooms.

The 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report includes recent reports of the abuse of deaf domestic workers in the United Kingdom, addicts forced to labor in fields in the United States, people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities enslaved in Chinese kilns, and persons with developmental disabilities forced to work as peddlers on the streets of India. Persons with disabilities remain one of the groups most at risk of being trafficked.

There are sophisticated traffickers who can use guile rather than brute force to capture their victims. Consider Brianna, a bubbly high school student, a girl anyone would think was safe. She had a stable home in a small town and worked after school in a diner. A normal appearing couple built trust with her by visiting the diner and engaging her in friendly small talk. They used that trust to mine her for information about the boys who attracted her. In fact the husband, Richard, was actually a veteran sex trafficker mining the young student for vital information he would use to try to lure her into a world of strip clubs and prostitution. Eventually he approached her directly inviting her to party with him which she declined.

Soon the man of Brianna’s dreams appeared in the diner. Nick played a gorgeous blond football player dressed to look financially well off. Brianna later said, “He flirted with me and made me feel so special and beautiful.” Nick invited her to visit him in Seattle. Despite her parents’ efforts to keep her home he convinced her to break her ties with them and move into his spare room. He suggested she could attend college while doing a little work on the side like dancing in a club where she could earn “tons of money doing little work.”

He made it sound safe enough with advice on how to avoid the wrong men and the money was too tempting. She willed herself to take the job with the idea that she would be naked only for a matter of minutes. In three nights she made $850—ten times what she made in a good night at the diner. For Nick’s next move he offered to take her on a trip to Arizona and Nevada, where Brianna most likely would have been completely cut off from her friends and family and disappeared into forced prostitution.

Brianna is one of the lucky ones though. Her sense of obligation to her parents led her to return her family’s car. She called a trusted friend who perceived the danger and alerted her family. Brianna resisted their efforts to break her trust until Linda Smith, founder and president of the national anti-trafficking organization Shared Hope was able to open Brianna’s eyes to the patterns and come-on lines of sex traffickers. In Smith’s discussion, Brianna recognized every line Nick had said to her.

Brianna had to make major changes to avoid any efforts by Nick to track her down. Now she tells her story educating girls about how polished traffickers can be in their traps. In partnership with Shared Hope she released Chosen. A kit for educators includes the video to teach children how careful they must be.

The thought of children being forced into sex or sweatshop labor is too horrifying for people to accept. To believe it is happening all around us is almost unfathomable. Didn’t slavery end with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union’s triumph in the Civil War? No. It did not. Slavery has existed and continues to exist on virtually every continent and it happens to people of all ethnicities, genders and ages.

The U.S. is part of the world community putting together the tools and manpower to end trafficking. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA are working together to fight it. There are task forces cooperating with all levels of law enforcement and in partnerships with the United Nations, hundreds of countries, and working groups to identify and arrest traffickers.

But this is an insidious crime that is especially attractive because it can fly so far beneath the radar. We need to recognize that prostitutes are not “working girls,” they are victims. It is immoral to ignore the fact that cheap clothing and goods are cheap because an employer workers in dangerous conditions with virtually no pay. There are even children among us who end up in slavery just because they are young and vulnerable.

The only way we can really end it is to deliver information to those who can use it to track down these predators. Learn the signs of trafficking and be on the lookout, before another Gina Dejesus can suddenly disappear from your neighborhood.

To join the fight against human trafficking learn how to spot it. You can start by visiting or

If you think a person should be investigated as either a victim or the criminal contact the FBI at or the Polaris Project at

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Couple who met in a homeless shelter pay it forward, help others transform lives

Maryellen Hess:

Enjoy this lovely story of two people who joined in their hearts and in their passion to help the homeless.

Originally posted on theGrio:

Homeless for three years, Ressurrection Graves vividly remembers the week she slept in her car, waiting for beds to become available at a Washington, D.C., homeless shelter. It was the week of Aug. 23, 2011, when a 5.8 earthquake shook the Virginia area and Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast with wind and rain.

“I prayed and was asking God how this could end,” she told “It was like, ‘Make it stop!’”

When beds finally became available at the shelter, Ressurrection checked in. And there she met Deven Graves, the “kind” man with whom she would leave homelessness behind and start an organization that is helping people caught in a cycle of poverty, including more than 75 homeless individuals so far this year.

“I had this guy staring at me,” Ressurrection recalled of her first encounter with Deven. “It felt like he was looking into my soul. It’s certainly…

View original 543 more words

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Reduce human trafficking with real immigration reform

Some people will do just about anything to get a job, feed their families and keep them safe. As a case in point consider the people who live in tin shacks next to sewage ponds in Mexico.  Refugees from countries mired in civil war want to escape sexual assault, physical assault, theft and death.

America is proud of its heritage as a land of opportunity. That is why so many Mexicans, refugees and people from other poor countries are willing to risk their lives to move here. They come from communist Cuba in flimsy boats or cross heavily fortified borders into the United States.

Then there are the “entrepreneurs” who offer to help desperate families get into America more safely.  These so-called entrepreneurs falsely promise help getting jobs and that will allow the immigrants to provide for their families. They do indeed get jobs. They just are not the jobs these parents envisioned; they are not jobs where hard work will lead to a decent life.

I have used the term entrepreneur in this piece to make a point. I am not referring to legitimate business people. I am referring to the monsters who are human traffickers. This kind of trafficking is nothing less than a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.

Who are traffickers? They are people or businesses who recruit, transport, harbor, obtain, and exploit victims, often using force, threats, lies, or other physical and psychological methods of control.  United Nations data shows it is one of the most flourishing and profitable businesses worldwide, often quoted as the third most profitable business for organized crime after drugs and the arms trade. Human traffickers are making fortunes preying on illegal immigrants, among others.

Traffickers do not tell their victims the new jobs will entail exhausting physical labor or the sex trade. Since the immigrants are not supposed to be here anyway their traffickers do not have to give them any worker protections.  They will not get a 40 hour work week; 12 hour days, seven days a week are more common. Workplace safety is not apparent in some industries anyway. On April 7, 2010 an explosion in a Charleston W.V. mine killed 25 workers. The mine had accumulated 1,300 safety violations over five years leading up to the explosion. None had been corrected.

Sex trafficking has no moral boundaries. Men, women and children are all forced into prostitution. Coercion can include violence, humiliation, threats to injure loved ones and even forced drug use to impair the victims.

Traffickers of illegal immigrants have another powerful tool to subjugate their victims. They easily convince their victims they will report the immigrants to immigration authorities and get them deported.

This leaves illegal immigrants in a twilight zone. They cannot get jobs that allow them to contribute to the economy and become self-sufficient. If they do break away from their owners they become the hidden homeless, increasing the number of people already living in misery on the street.

Immigration reform can allow the victims to escape their slavery and join the real economy. Removing the threat of deportation empowers them to take back their lives. Greater legal access to America will prevent trafficking in the first place.

Immigration reform is a crime fighting tool. It can reduce the horror of enslaving children into prostitution. Families can work in places of basic decency with essential workplace safety. We can replace the path to slavery with one to open participation in a good life. It might even be a path to citizenship.

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LAPD Officer Deon Joseph Speaks about Public Feedings on Skid Row | Invisible People

Mark Horvath of always provides a new way to look at how we can best help the homeless. In this story he explains why there are times when handing out food may actually be counterproductive.

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph Speaks about Public Feedings on Skid Row

I first became aware of LAPD Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph a few years back, when two Christian documentary filmmakers featured his amazing work on Skid Row. I literally was blown away by this strong Christian man’s love for a community that is in desperate need of genuine love. Since then, our paths have crossed a few times, but it was only recently that I connected with Deon Joseph on Facebook. His candid and emotionally honest accounts of his day-to-day life working with the Skid Row community are encouraging and heartbreaking…often at the same time.

About a week before Christmas, a time on Skid Row where faith based groups ascend into Skid Row by the droves, Deon posted an update that messed me up. It was pretty much a “play-by-play” account of a war zone of madness created by faith based groups, who have good intentions, but are completely unaware of the reality of their actions. My heart broke for Officer Joseph and for the people on Skid Row.

Read more here…

via LAPD Officer Deon Joseph Speaks about Public Feedings on Skid Row | Invisible People.

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Is homelessness a state of mind?

Webster’s Dictionary says homelessness is a state of, “having no home or permanent place of residence.” If only the answer were so simple.

Most people who become homeless need emergency assistance and then they are able to stabilize their lives. Researcher Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania found that about 80% of homeless people need only temporary help. A modest investment to pay delinquent rent or utility bills can fend off eviction. Help with a first months’ rent or utility deposit may be all a family needs.

Fortunately once these individuals and families stabilize their lives they can regain their belief the future can be better. A quick return to a normal life restores hope. Homelessness never becomes a way of life.

What about the other 20%? These are the people with long lasting underlying problems that cause them to lose housing repeatedly. At its core America’s social service system is not designed well for those who require more intense treatment and support services. Treatment providers for persons with mental illness and alcohol and drug addictions are underfunded. Low pay and high burn out leads to high turnover rates. Similarly, support systems for victims of domestic violence are overwhelmed. Studies done in Toronto, Milwaukee and Boston connected brain trauma to homelessness in anywhere from 48 to 60% of cases.

An untreated severe mental illness makes it difficult to sustain work and pay rent consistently. Even with treatment mental illness is episodic and relapses can cost the person their job.

A victim fleeing domestic violence has to heal, and may even need to hide for a while.  Youth homelessness is exploding, often another casualty of domestic violence. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated in 2013 that during a year there are approximately 550,000 unaccompanied, single youth and young adults up to age 24 who experience a homelessness episode of longer than one week. Approximately  380,000 of those youth are under the age of 18.

Homelessness is a way of life called survival. People must satisfy today’s need to eat and tonight’s place to sleep. Hyper vigilance to evade theft and assault is the norm. They learn to stay on the move to avoid arrests for sleeping in public or loitering; crimes of the homeless.

This focus on daily needs slowly erodes their ability to plan and think ahead.  It robs them of dignity and confidence. Homeless people are disconnected; family and friends may cut them off, or the homeless person is too embarrassed to reach out. The intense feelings of fear and helplessness caused by homelessness are debilitating themselves. It is nothing less than a downward spiral.

The 20% who have repeated episodes of homelessness experience the trauma over and over. And with each new episode the mental, emotional and physical effects of homelessness worsen. These individuals are more likely to develop confusion,  anxiety, rage, terror, panic, shame, or depression and a host of other problems that can, ironically, perpetuate their homelessness. Rejection and disdain are expected.

Homelessness is not simply, “having no home or permanent place of  residence.” Homelessness can deeply change the person – it can take over the way a person views the world, and how he or she reacts to it. Survival skills take over – man’s natural response to danger.

People long for a home of their own but, ironically, it is also a culture shock if a person has been homeless long enough. After learning the rules of the street they must shift to learning the rules of a lease. They have left the known community of other homeless people for an unfamiliar apartment building full of strangers.

The Soloist” gives the average person a glimpse into the terror that a new apartment can create. In that movie Jamie Foxx portrays the real life story of Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless man with schizophrenia who was a Juilliard trained violinist. Ayers is given the opportunity to move from the streets of Skid Row to his own apartment. Instead of reacting with excitement he panicked, turning uncharacteristically combative.

Homelessness as a physical state is much the same for anyone. It means not having a place to live. But over time it insinuates itself into your sense of self. An expectation that things will get better ebbs away and despair takes its place. Most Americans say they are starving when dinner is late. The homeless accept hunger as a fact of life. We assume we will get a good night’s sleep while a homeless person assumes sleep will be fitful at best.

Moving a long term homeless person from the street to an apartment is about more than signing a lease and handing over a key. It requires patience and support to help them adapt to their new surroundings and way of life.

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Could you ever be homeless?

This is not a question about whether you have a low wage job. It’s not about whether you lost everything of value after foreclosure, nor is it about the fact many people have to file for bankruptcy after a devastating illness.

It is not even about money. The real question is: Do you have good relationships with family and friends who would provide you with a place to sleep in an emergency?

Family and friends keep people off the street when life goes bad. Consider the “boomerang generation.”  It is a common phenomenon now that adult children may move back in with their families after attempting independence. According to a Pew Research Center report, in 2012, 36 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 31) were living in their parents’ home — the highest percentage in at least four decades. Many college graduates move home until they can increase their income and reduce college debt, now topping $29,000 on average.

The poverty rates for shared households were lower than for other households, although the adults who made up those households individually had high rates of personal poverty.

That was especially true for young adults. Those who lived with their parents had a poverty rate of 8.4 percent, but that figure included the entire household in calculating income. If the poverty status was determined using solely individual incomes, the poverty rate for those doubled-up young adults would have been 45.3 percent, according to the Census Bureau. 

In families affected by individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) care giving often falls primarily to the parents. Aging parental caregivers are the backbone of long-term support for adult children with SMI. Siblings and close friends provide sanctuary as well.

The same can be true for families of addicts. Parents and siblings can hang on to the belief they can change their loved one’s behavior. Many tolerate deception, theft and a general failure to accept responsibilities that are intrinsic to the person who is dependent upon drugs or alcohol, including dependency on prescription narcotics.

In January 2013 over 600,000 people were homeless in America. This number is based on an actual count conducted across the country in which surveyors reach out to homeless people. By homeless we mean people who are living on the street, in emergency shelters or in short term housing.

Family and friends may be the only help standing between the effects of underemployment, mental illness and drug and alcohol addictions and homelessness. Those 600,000 people counted in January 2013 have nowhere to go. Either they never had good relationships with their families or those relationships have eroded over time due to the strains caused by crowded living, financial stress and family conflict.

Most people can feel confident they have someone who will be there for them in a time of crisis. That support alone can have a profound effect on the emotional stamina needed to reestablish one’s life – whatever led to its downward spiral.

Those who are cared for owe their families gratitude. Society owes them recognition for their willingness to risk their own comfort and financial stability to keep loved ones under roof.

Do you have people who would take you in if you lost everything tomorrow? Or is there a chance you would have to join the 600,000 people who have no one to help them?

There is good data showing American citizens and policy makers should be concerned about the potential of homelessness among doubled up households. Nonetheless thousands of people have a place to sleep tonight because they have strong, consistent family support.

Next time you see a person who needs to sleep in a shelter or in a tent you might remember, they do not have even one friend who can or will take them in from the cold.

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Senator Chris Murphy takes a class in homelessness

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy went on a junket recently. He spent a day with a homeless man.

Granted this was not a typical junket. His lunch came from a hot meal site serving franks and beans. He didn’t play golf in Scotland or go sailing. He certainly did not go first class, unless that’s how you see walking between a homeless shelter, a library and a food site in Connecticut in January.

How could Senator Murphy know what to expect that day? He couldn’t know, and that is exactly why he spent the day with Nick.

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How could Senator Murphy know what to expect? He couldn’t know, and that is exactly why he spent the day with Nick, a man who had spent six months living in shelters and the street.

We won’t pretend one day is a full education. It does say this senator is a leader who wants to know more about all the people he serves. How much better would our political discourse be if all politicians had the courage to learn first hand what life is like for people different from them? There’s no better education than getting up close and personal with them.

In his own words he wanted to get a glimpse of what homelessness is really like. To read more about what he learned that day check out the full story at

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