By Michelle Threadgould
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it’s important to remember that in 2017, approximately 12,775 reported cases of human trafficking of women occur a year in the U.S. alone. Thousands of women are currently living through the brutal conditions of human trafficking, forced coercion, exploitation of labor, and sex slavery.
While the number of reported cases of human trafficking is overwhelming and hard to come to terms with, we must ask ourselves: how can we address human trafficking and help vulnerable populations of women and children escape the horrific conditions of modern-day slavery?
Jennifer Flaks is the Communications Director at Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating human trafficking and providing human trafficking survivors with education, resources, and assistance to escape their lives of forced labor or sex slavery. CAST helps all survivors of human trafficking regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or country of origin. When describing how her organization interacts with women and the issues that they are facing, Jennifer says, “Immigrants and people of color, especially women and girls, are often the most vulnerable. Last year, 73% of our cases were women and girls.”
Not only are 73% of CAST’s cases women, but international statistics of human trafficking reveal that Latinos make up 56% of labor trafficking and 23% of sex trafficking victims worldwide. Additionally, the Human Trafficking Report In California states, “California is a top destination for human traffickers. The state’s extensive international border, its major harbors and airports, its powerful economy and accelerating population, its large immigrant population and its industries make it a prime target for traffickers.”
Immigrant populations are particularly susceptible to human trafficking because of their low income, limited resources, isolation, and fear of deportation. According to the 2016 Trafficking In Persons Report, human trafficking affects every demographic, and “Systemic social, cultural, and economic policies or practices may marginalize or discriminate against individuals and groups because they are poor, are intellectually or physically disabled, or because of their gender or ethnicity.”
To that end, CAST is dedicated to stopping human trafficking and making a difference in Latino, immigrant, and vulnerable communities. Since its inception in 1998, CAST has identified and provided direct services to over 1,500 human trafficking survivors and their family members. CAST also operates a human trafficking hotline 24 hours a day, offers free legal and social services to human trafficking survivors, provides physically and psychologically safe housing for trafficking survivors, and provides training and technical assistance to professionals to identify and serve victims.
Notably, CAST has also created a Survivor Advisory Caucus and National Survivor Network, which, according to their 2016 Impact Report, “bring together a community of survivors of human trafficking that are empowered to organize and advocate in order to impact policy change.” This network enables human trafficking survivors to make meaningful connections with those who have experienced many of the same traumas, and empowers supportive groups for survivors.
Some of the individuals CAST has helped include a woman who was brought to Los Angeles from Mexico. Jennifer explained, “She was taking sewing classes in Mexico and her teacher told her about a job opportunity in the U.S. When she arrived, she realized it wasn’t what was described. She was forced to work 18 hours a day in a sewing factory and then had to stay afterwards and clean. She was forced to sleep in the storage room and wasn’t allowed to leave the factory. She was given one meal a day.”
By working with CAST, this woman was able to escape her situation. She was given shelter, and ultimately was reunited with her family, who she brought to the U.S. from Mexico. Her family has gone on to live a successful life.
Another example of a woman who CAST helped escape from her trafficking situation was Alejandra,* also from Mexico. Alejandra, a transgendered woman, was raped multiple times, sold into brothels, and forced into sex slavery. CAST was able to successfully advocate for Alejandra, help her obtain her T Visa (a visa obtained specifically for victims of trafficking), provide shelter, and partner with organizations to give her an education. Alejandra was granted legal permanent residency in the U.S., has completed nursing school, and is now a thriving pillar of her community.
Stories like these ultimately led CAST to start its #GoMujeres crowdfunding campaign on HIPGive this March, Women’s History Month. By supporting this campaign, donors help women escape their human traffickers and take advantage of the education, social and legal services, and support network that CAST provides. With your help, CAST can achieve its goal of ending human trafficking, and make history by improving the lives of thousands of women living in the U.S.
*Alejandra is not her real name.