DC Conference: Human Trafficking in the Americas

Around 70 participants from all corners of the globe have gathered at “The Human Trafficking in Persons in the Americas,” conference being held at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington D.C. The presentations are bilingual and the room is buzzing with the sound of direct translations being whispered into people’s ears as the first panel of the day gets underway.

Nyssa Mestas has taken the stage. She specializes in Migration and refugee services for the Anti-Trafficking Program at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

There are two types of trafficking: sexual exploitation and forced labor.

Both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals are being trafficked in the United States, although they tend to be trafficked for different purposes. For U.S. citizens it is primarily for sexual exploitation, and with foreign nationals it is primarily for forced labor.

Sex trafficking is not just illegal prostitution as most might think, but runs the gamut of strip clubs, escort services, and marriage services to name a few.

Forced labor can take a variety of forms, from the legitimate business such as a nail salons, restaurants, or circus performances to non-legitimate businesses such as domestic servitude, and drug manufacturing and dealing.

These activities are not limited to specific regions of the U.S. and can be found in both rural and urban settings. Currently the top cities for human trafficking are Newark, L.A., New York, Houston and Miami.

Traffickers play on vulnerable persons, but they prey on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals differently.

Victims of domestic trafficking, according to Mestas, are usually women who are young, female, and fall within the 13-17 age range, but the USCCB has also seen as young as 12, and in some cases boys. They are coming from broken homes, in some cases living at a foster home, and end up running away or are lured away by adults over the internet. A few are kidnapped. The USCCB has heard of cases of kids being lured from malls or clubs. The traffickers tend to create an emotional dependency with the victims or foster drug and alcohol addiction in order to entrap them. They may also use violence and coercion.

In the past 2 years the USCCB has seen people from 72 different countries being trafficked into the U.S. Many are being recruited or lured and brought in by the traffickers. Many of those who are trafficked are looking for employment. They are frequently in the margins of society who are not protected, women, street youth, orphans. There are also cases of kidnapping.

They are being lured by a promise of a job, education, or marriage. Many see ads on the Internet or newspaper. Traffickers have found that recruiting is very effective tool to lure in potential victims.

– Sara Fajardo, CRS communications officer

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