A lawyer with Legal Services of Southern Missouri told members of the Domestic Violence Community Response Task Force on Tuesday that law enforcement and victim advocates may be seeing cases of human trafficking more often than they think.
Kendall Seal, the lawyer and special guest at the task force's meeting held at the VFW Post No. 3838 in Cape Girardeau, also gave victim advocates advice on how to recognize cases of human trafficking.
Sponsored by the Safe House for Women, the panel meets quarterly to raise awareness and become educated on domestic violence-related issues.
Of the more than 600,000 victims trafficked across international borders worldwide, between 14,500 and 17,500 of the victims are brought into the U.S., according to the United States government.
"It's going on all the time, we're just not paying attention," said Seal. "It's mostly women and children, but can happen to men and boys."
They're generally trafficked into the U.S. from Asia, South America and Eastern Europe and often don't speak English. Through force, fraud or coercion, victims are exploited for commercial sex, such as pornography or prostitution, or for labor purposes like migrant agricultural work, construction, jobs at hair and nail salons and hotel services.
"After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world," Seal said.
Additionally, the U.S. Attorney's office for the Western District of Missouri has prosecuted more human trafficking cases than any other district in the country.
"It's more than L.A., more than New York, more than Miami," Seal said. "This is very sobering, and I think if more Missourians were aware of this I think there would be more interest in these types of cases in our communities."
Although many of the "red flags" victim advocates are trained to associate with instances of domestic violence match potential human trafficking cases, Seal said there are still a lot of signs of trafficking that are different.
Victims will often not know what city they're in if asked about their whereabouts and they are often not in control of their own identification. They also many not be allowed to speak for themselves, according to Seal. A large number of traffickers brand their victims by giving them tattoos and manipulate their victims to become fearful of law enforcement. Seal encouraged Safe House advocates to screen their clients more effectively if they suspect their situation may be more serious than a problem with domestic violence.
"Ask some more questions," he said. "I'm challenging you to think beyond the label."
"Human trafficking victims require intensive care management, they will test your limits," Seal said. "They don't know anyone and sometimes they don't even know the language."
Seal added that partnering with LSSM, a not-for-profit corporation focused on civil legal concerns for 19 counties, may complement any assistance advocates give to victims, as LSSM can help connect the victim to a number of federal programs that may allow the person to stay in the country. He recommended victim advocates from Safe House advise any clients who may have been victims of trafficking to obtain legal counsel. Without it they may become more vulnerable and even more exploited, he said.
To learn about LSSM, visit www.lsmo.org. For additional resources, contact the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at 888-373-7888.
1049 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau, MO