Summar Ghias, IOFA Program Development Intern:
I was on the bus. Per the usual rush hour traffic, I was standing sandwiched between countless others on my way home from work. As I stood awkwardly close, infringing on the personal space of those who had been fortunate enough to get a seat, I noticed one young girl in particular. She sat forlorn, staring out the window and then at her phone as she texted. Her left hand had a tattoo etched on it; weaved between her thumb and index finger was a man’s name. Unable to look anywhere else because of the lack of space on the bus, I saw her read a text from an unknown number, which said, “I want to help you”. Seconds later, a woman who sat diagonally in a seat a row ahead snatched the phone away. The woman responded to the text for her with “what did you say?” Standing over them on the crowded bus, my curiosity piqued. Was this girl okay? Who was the woman and why were they not sitting together or speaking at all otherwise? Was the girl's tattoo a form of branding or did she simply have a tattoo of her boyfriend’s name?
Identifying victims is a vital step in the fight against human trafficking. An estimated minimum of 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Chicago every year.[i] While I didn’t have enough information to gauge the situation on my bus ride, there are telltale signs that you can look out for to identify victims of human trafficking.
At IOFA, we train law enforcement, legal service providers and social service agencies on some of these indicators. If the age of an individual has been verified to be under 18, and the individual is in any way involved in the commercial sex industry, or has a record of prior arrest for prostitution (or related charges), then he or she is a victim.
Some other signs are below:
- Avoids eye contact
- Evidence of being controlled (rarely alone)
- Persistent fear, depression, anxiety, submissive behavior
- Hyper vigilant or paranoid behavior
- Loss of sense of time and space
- No passport or other identifying documentation
- Not speaking on own behalf and/or no English speaking
- Evidence of inability to move or leave job or take time off
- Unpaid for work or compensated very little
- Lives with co-workers and "employer" - no privacy
- Untreated illnesses and infections
- Signs of physical abuse or substance abuse
- Secrecy about whereabouts
- Unaccounted for time, vagueness concerning whereabouts, and/or defensiveness in response to questions or concern
- Keeping late night or unusual hours
- A tattoo that he or she is reluctant to explain
If you suspect an incidence of human trafficking, please call the 24-hour National Hotline at (888) 3737-888 or IOFA at (773) 404-8831.
[i] O'Leary, C., Howard, O. "The Prostitution of Women and Girls in Metropolitan Chicago:A Preliminary Prevalence Report. Center for Impact Research. Chicago, 2001