Human trafficking: Modern-day slavery exists here in many forms
Slavery may have been abolished more than 100 years ago, but it still exists all around the world, including Fairfield County.
“We have more slavery today than at any time in history,” said Alicia Kinsman in a presentation to the Wilton League of Women Voters on Friday, Sept. 20, at Wilton Library. Ms. Kinsman is director of victim services at the International Institute of Connecticut, which offers case management services and legal advocacy to survivors of human trafficking and other serious crimes.
Ms. Kinsman spoke specifically of human trafficking, which she said “is happening here, probably in Wilton.”
In the cases she spoke of, human trafficking did not refer to the illegal physical movement of people, but rather forced or compelled work. “It’s a job where an employee can’t leave without facing a dire threat of physical or emotional abuse,” she said. “It is more than just a bad job.”
It is modern-day slavery.
Victims are often isolated from their family and friends. They may be under constant surveillance or threatened with deportation. Their passport, driver’s license or other identification may be taken away.
Cases may occur in a private home in the form of domestic servitude as well as in hotels, nail salons, restaurants, bars, strip clubs and massage parlors.
Human trafficking, Ms. Kinsman said, “is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world.” Compared to drug or gun trafficking, “it offers a high profit at a low risk,” she said.
Human trafficking does not reach the same level of awareness as those other high-profile crimes. “It doesn’t look like a crime,” she said. “A person may look like a nanny, housekeeper or landscaper. ...Victims are completely visible but invisible at the same time,” she said.
It offers a high profit in that a person is a “commodity that can be sold over and over again.”
Ms. Kinsman said when she began this line of work she had two misconceptions about human trafficking. The first was that there had to be some sort of transportation or movement involved. “That’s not the case,” she said. “You can be trafficked in one place.”
She also thought the most typical form of control would be physical — women held in cages or tied up. “In reality, that’s the exception,” she said. “The norm is using emotional and psychological control. You can do more harm and more long-lasting harm that way and it is hard for the prosecution to see.”
Most victims of human trafficking are foreign-born, Ms. Kinsman said, and their abusers play on their fear of arrest or deportation. According to International Institute of Connecticut, victims who are not citizens or legal residents of the U.S. may qualify for immigration protection so they and their family may remain here and eventually apply for citizenship.
Although Connecticut has had anti-trafficking legislation since 2006, not one case has been tried. All have been at the federal level, she said.
Last year, Project Rescue worked on 30 cases but prosecution is difficult because the crimes are not obvious and the victims often do not make “good witnesses.”
“To prosecute you need evidence,” she said. “You can find drugs and guns” in those cases, she continued, but for human trafficking “you need a person willing to participate and testify. That is difficult if they are undergoing trauma.
“In telling a story, someone with underlying trauma will mess up the timeline, will tell the story one way one day, one way another.
“You’re not a good witness unless you can tell your story perfectly,” she said.
To that end, her organization is working on training for law enforcement and prosecutors and putting together programs that “tread as lightly as possible” on the victim when getting information.
The International Institute of Connecticut has offices in Bridgeport, Stamford, Hartford and Derby. The National Human Trafficking Hotline 888-373-7888.