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Editorial: Human trafficking is local issue

November 10, 2010

It’s a silent and devastating problem going on right under our noses, and it’s going to take courage and a willingness to ask invasive and uncomfortable questions to stop it.

A handful of years ago or more, when Abby Kuzma was executive director of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, she met a Mexican man who had been held against his will and forced to live and work while under armed guard in a warehouse in Pennsylvania. He’d been promised a regular job by the person who brought him across the border, only to find slave-like conditions. A family member figured out his plight and helped him break free, but the man was on the run from his captors and Kuzma was unable to convince him that she wanted to help him; he feared she would return him to his life of servitude.

If your first thought on reading that is “he shouldn’t be here illegally in the first place” then you are part of the problem, because human trafficking isn’t just about enslaving people in warehouses – it’s also about people being forced into prostitution, and worse.

Now in her role as director and chief counsel for the Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General, Kuzma is still interested in the outcomes of these kinds of cases, as are advocates who work with domestic violence victims, lawyers who focus on human rights, and immigration lawyers. You can read about the issue in a story that begins on page 1 of this issue of the newspaper.

While Kuzma wasn’t able to help the man she met, she was able to help a 16-year-old girl from Honduras, who had been abducted by a gang and prostituted from the time she was 13 or 14. The girl was reunited with her mother, who lives in the United States.

Domestic violence victim advocates say the problem is on the rise in Indiana, but it is being noticed in rural parts of the state. The power and control exhibited by a trafficker is often the same as that demonstrated by someone who abuses his or her domestic partner. It’s a problem we all need to be aware of so we can do something about it.

The Indiana Department of Labor is supposed to be on the alert for calls that come in regarding unfair wages or employment practices that might relate to human trafficking. Police are also supposed to be aware of how to interact with potential victims, especially when it comes to prostitution. Other outreach efforts include domestic violence shelters and hospitals that treat those with low incomes and the uninsured.

But the outreach effort also can include you.

Kuzma said it best: “… if you see a girl who is not in school who seems to be working somewhere – including next door and working there all hours, like a domestic slave, if not for you, who would be asking the question? Maybe if you see her in a grocery line, maybe that’s the opportunity to find out who she is.”

If not for you, who would be asking the question? If you’re wrong, all you’ve done is perhaps ask an intrusive question and embarrassed yourself a little.

But what if you’re right?•

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