NAMING THE ISSUE
"If you can't name it, you can't tame it."
However, some trafficking survivors continue to remain with their traffickers despite her assistance. According to her, “they just don’t see themselves as victims.” In no way is this meant to blame victims for their situation. Rather, it shows just how important it is for us to know how to recognize human trafficking.
We can also apply this viewpoint to those who may not be a victim of trafficking but want to keep themselves and others safe. Tracy* and I spoke at length about common signs of trafficking to look for, especially in a school setting.
First, she warned about more obvious signs of violence. “If they have bruises, if they are covering up black eyes or broken bones or other injuries ... those are some big things that you might see.” Next, she called out extreme age differences between romantic partners. If a peer is dating someone much older than they are (especially if your peer is a minor) it opens up many doors for abuse and manipulation. Another potential sign of trafficking is a sudden change in fashion. If someone suddenly goes from wearing lower-budget clothing to wearing expensive outfits with no clear explanation, they may have received those items from a trafficker attempting to groom them. In classes, a trafficked teen may be consistently tired. Once school is out, they may be picked up by an unfamiliar person or group of people. Nevertheless, Tracy* cautions that these behaviors may not alone indicate trafficking, but they should be a cause for alarm if many of them occur.
Kids and teens have a unique ability to perceive these patterns among their classmates. As Tracy* emphasized, “Sometimes you might see things that an adult might not see.” Being able to place a name—human trafficking—next to what we see is vital to keeping ourselves and others safe.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Department of Homeland Security’s local headquarters, where I interviewed a Victim Assistant Specialist (who shall here be named Tracy for her privacy). One thing that she told me really stuck: when prompted why more people should know about human trafficking, she told me that “if you can’t name it, you can’t tame it.” This principle only became more and more relevant as our conversation went on.
As a Victim Assistant Specialist, Tracy* works closely with trafficking survivors at every step of their path to recovery. When local law enforcement conducts a sting operation (a bust of a known trafficker), Tracy* is onsite. Because many victims are conditioned not to speak to police officers, she must work alone to gain their trust within the first few moments of meeting them. After assuring trafficking survivors that they are safe and will not be prosecuted, she helps her clients find stable housing, work, medical care, educational opportunities, and access to food. In her own words, her goal is to bring her clients “from a victim to a survivor to a thriver.”