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Human trafficking: Often invisible, it requires constant vigilance

We can combat trafficking when we look out for each other, when we see what is now invisible to us. It is part of creating a more just, humane, and safe Minnesota for all.

 

In our midst are people being taken advantage of — they might be janitors in our offices or maids at our hotels, young people in our community, women in low-wage jobs in our stores, or workers in our fields.
Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

Human trafficking is a significant but often invisible problem. Often in plain sight, yet unseen, young girls and boys as well as adults are frequently trafficked for labor or sex, right here in Minnesota and the rest of the U.S.  

Robin Phillips
Robin Phillips
Miguel is typical, if indeed any of these stories can be typical. Along with other young men, he was recruited from his home country for a job in the U.S. His employer obtained a work visa for Miguel and other young men, and promised a fair wage for work. Once here, though, his employer refused to pay Miguel and threatened to call police and immigration authorities if he complained. Despite the threats Miguel contacted immigration officers, but when they came to investigate, they asked his employer to be the interpreter.  

After many months and threats, Miguel eventually got help. Others are not as fortunate, sometimes trapped in these situations for years. Young girls are particularly vulnerable, as they are often trafficked for both sex and work. Tied into this are parallel crimes and abuses: unsafe working conditions, compelled criminal activity, identity theft, and sexual assault.

Because of our collective vigilance, Minnesota has been at the forefront of efforts to uncover and battle human trafficking. My organization, The Advocates for Human Rights, has been working on human trafficking issues more than a decade. Labor and sex trafficking arrests increase when authorities are better trained to recognize it, suggesting the problem is underreported and undercounted. Among other efforts, we have trained more than 500 Minnesota police, prosecutors, employment enforcement agencies, and other professionals to identify and combat trafficking. And in January we published a set of protocols that can help communities throughout Minnesota more quickly identify and respond to instances of labor trafficking.

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But, there’s still much to learn about trafficking. Investigative journalists Andrés Cediel and Daffodil Altan, among others, have kept watching and listening. Their recent PBS/Frontline film, “Trafficked in America,” shines a light into the dark corners of the world of trafficking. In 2015 Cediel looked at the rampant sexual assault in the janitorial industries. A major segment of that PBS/Frontline film, “Rape on the Night Shift,” investigated conditions here in Minnesota. Cediel will be the keynote speaker at The Advocates for Human Rights’ annual awards dinner on Thursday, June 20.  We invite the community to join together that evening and learn.

In our midst are people being taken advantage of — they might be janitors in our offices or maids at our hotels, young people in our community, women in low-wage jobs in our stores, or workers in our fields. We can combat trafficking when we look out for each other, when we see what is now invisible to us. It is part of creating a more just, humane, and safe Minnesota for all.

Robin Phillips is the executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights.

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