While running errands on the south end of town, my eyes caught sight of a young woman standing at the corner of the parking lot. "Need Help to Get to Arizona" her sign read as traffic passed by. "Hello!" I asked as I pulled up. "Do you need help?" Her story consisted of needing money so that she and her husband and baby could return to family in Arizona. "Where are you from?" I asked, "Romania." Interesting. This was at the end of October 2014.
That following Spring I was driving alone and saw another young woman near the same location, similar sign. Parking my car a little ways off, I approached her on foot. Handing her a bag filled with some small snacks and a water bottle, I attempted to chat with her. Apologetically she responded that she didn't speak any English. Her appearance looked familiar. "Are you from Romania?" I asked, "Yes!" "Who are you here with?" The story came out that her boyfriend was currently at Wal Mart getting the car fixed. When I asked her how she had come to America, she opened up and shared that she had come through a Mexican man and that she had no legal documents.
Throughout the past 5 years while involved in raising awareness regarding the trafficking of persons, I have often been met with disbelief and comments like, "That doesn't happen here!" Are you sure?
Another gal I met while working there was from Wichita, her boyfriend was in jail. An exuberant young person, she boasted of many things and eventually was asked to leave because of her negative influence including drugs. I had my concerns about her.
There are many more stories I could share.
Trafficking is determined by identifying influences of either force, fraud, or coercion. If someone is being controlled for the personal advantage of another person, money being withheld or required for things that person is not responsible to pay, if they are soliciting help and not able to keep the money, these can all be a part of their involvement in human trafficking. Even if it doesn't begin with sex, it often leads there.
In 2011 when I left Thailand after volunteering with Nightlight International, I was unaware how my life could help those affected by human trafficking in the states. Part of it has been learning how to identify it here. Often we have an idea of what human trafficking looks like and are missing it completely. I don't think it is by asking them straight out if they have heard about human trafficking or are being trafficked.