Examining the problem of labor trafficking

In the continuing series, Fox in Focus: People for Sale, we explore to problem of labor trafficking. The State Department estimates as many as 17,000 people are trafficked into the United States, each year, for this modern-day slavery. That's in addition to people who are already here.

In 2016, a Katy couple was arrested, and later convicted, of luring a woman from their native Nigeria to be a nanny for their children. The woman was forced to work up to 20 hours a day, without pay, was abused, and had to sleep on the floor, while the couple kept her passport. Once the case was settled, former U.S. attorney Ryan Patrick said, "This modern day slavery, and this is exactly what it looks like."

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Eileen Dong lived a similar experience. Now living in The Woodlands, she runs a non-profit organization that aims to help trafficking survivors, like her. Years ago, a job as a live-in maid became sexually and physically abusive at the hands of the trafficker who hired her. She was never paid and felt helpless to leave, "He was, like, 'Nobody is going to want you, and I'm here to care for you. So, if you leave, you have no place to stay and no one to take care of you, so you're better off with me.'"

Timeka Walker runs the Houston-based advocacy-group, United Against Human Trafficking, and says the number of trafficked-people who are stuck in forced-labor far outweighs incidents of sexual exploitation, but gets less attention. 

"Human trafficking is happening every day, all day, in all parts of the country," she says.

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Part of the prevalence is because it can happen right in front of us, where construction, manufacturing, domestic work, and landscaping jobs, to name a few, can all be places where worker vulnerabilities can be exploited. 

"If someone has a language barrier; if someone comes from an impoverished home; if someone is in a relationship where they're being abused and don't have family members; kids who are aging-out of the foster care system; that's a prime population, and they're primed for traffickers," says Walker.


This modern form of slavery can affect men, women, and children alike. Still, as often as it occurs, organizations like United Against Human Trafficking do not, and can not, often rush in to rescue those being exploited. Instead, they need to first recognize they need help and choose to escape. 

"It's more a bondage of the mind, because their trafficker has done so much to break down their self-esteem, and make them feel like they're less than human," says Walker. "When they understand and move out of that situation, we're here to support them."

It is hard to gauge exactly where these incidents of labor trafficking are happening, because they're so well hidden. But recent studies suggest there are hundreds of thousands of ongoing victims in Texas, and hundreds of businesses and traffickers exploiting them. 

We can make a dent in that lucrative business by considering where we spend our money, and whether the food we eat, the clothes you wear, or the services you receive, come at the hands of someone being exploited.

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