[SOCIAL MEDIA] On-Ramps, Intersections, and Exit Routes: A Roadmap for Systems and Industries to Prevent and Disrupt Human Trafficking

[SOCIAL MEDIA] On-Ramps, Intersections, and Exit Routes: A Roadmap for Systems and Industries to Prevent and Disrupt Human Trafficking

[SOCIAL MEDIA] On-Ramps, Intersections, and Exit Routes: A Roadmap for Systems and Industries to Prevent and Disrupt Human Trafficking

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Harold D’Souza hardly seemed like an obvious candidate
for a five-figure bank loan. He had only just arrived
from India, with a wife, two young boys, and a job offer
that turned out to be fraudulent. Yet somehow, with
just a few signatures on a few dotted lines, Harold
walked out the door of a bank with what would have
been a small fortune had he been allowed to access it.
Of course, he wasn’t. Every dime of that money went
to the man who actually arranged for the loan – the
trafficker. This was the same man who brought Harold
to the United States with the promise of a high-paying
professional job and instead forced him to work in a
restaurant and live in a virtual prison of debt and desperation.

Exactly how the trafficker managed to secure
a loan of tens of thousands of dollars in the name of a
newly arrived migrant worker with no verifiable source
of income remains a mystery to Harold. Clearly though,
it was not dumb luck. The trafficker knew exactly how
to work within and around a highly regulated and legitimate
industry – banking – to maximize the profit he
made on Harold and his family. It was all part of his
business plan.

The man whose lies and manipulations robbed Harold
of his freedom was not unique to his field. A successful
trafficker, like any successful entrepreneur, begins with
a business plan built on a platform of established business
models and best practices. Over time, that plan
is chiseled to perfection as the trafficker learns new
skills and tests out innovative new ways to monetize
the exploitation of human beings.

As with any enterprise, the business plan of a human
trafficking venture is not built in a vacuum but rather
exists within an ecosystem or matrix, depending on
and intersecting with a range of legitimate industries
and systems – cultural, governmental, environmental.
Examples are abundant. Traffickers use banks to store
their earnings and buses to move their victims around;
hotel rooms are integral to the operations of some sex
traffickers, social media is a vital recruitment trawling
ground for others.

This report takes a magnifying glass to such private-sector
intersections. The details matter. The more that is known
about the business plans of human trafficking, the more
possible it becomes to prevent and disrupt the crime and
help survivors find freedom. The insights here are gleaned
from those in a position to understand the nuances of
each business intersection point – the survivors who lived
the experience. They are not definitive scientific conclusions
but rather valuable baseline narratives that can spark
further exploration and collaboration from other sectors.
Each set of insights is followed by detailed recommendations
for turning them into action, industry by industry.
Like the insights and information that precede them,
these recommendations are also not intended to be
definitive. They are a beginning; an invitation. What we
have learned is only as valuable as the partners who join
us in making the recommendations a reality – and by
offering more of their own.

This report builds upon Polaris’s 2017 report, The
Typology of Modern Slavery, which analyzed data,
gleaned from nearly 10 years of operating the National
Human Trafficking Hotline, to show that human trafficking
in the United States consists of 25 distinct business models.
For each, the Typology report illuminated the basic
operational plan – the demographics of both victims and
traffickers, and how victims are recruited and controlled.

The sectors explored in this report – the financial services
industry, social media, transportation industry,
hotels & motels, housing & homelessness systems,
and health care – are not the only private businesses
that intersect with human trafficking. Nor are they “to
blame” in some way for human trafficking. Indeed, as
you will read, many stakeholders in each of these systems
and industries are already doing innovative work
or making powerful commitments to becoming part of
the solution.

Clearly, engagement from the private sector alone is
not enough. Child welfare agencies, schools and teachers,
the criminal justice system, and local, state, and
federal government actors are the proverbial tip of the
spear, essential to the fight against human trafficking.
But human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry
that robs 25 million people around the world of their
freedom. This report focuses on the private and public-private
sector because fighting human trafficking
will require participation by business and industry partners
with resources at a comparable scale to the size
of the problem. Participation, in this context, is not a
euphemism for making donations to groups that fight
human trafficking. The fight against human trafficking
requires not just passive support but actual, active
commitment and effort on the part of businesses that
unwittingly, but regularly intersect with traffickers, victims,
and survivors.

The information about how each of these systems and
industries are exploited by traffickers as part of their
business plans comes from extensive surveys of, and
focus groups with, survivors of all types of human trafficking,
as well as from the National Human Trafficking
Hotline. Those who participated in this work, and in the
sometimes painful process of sharing their own stories,
did so not to point fingers, but rather to point out opportunities.

We are grateful beyond measure to those with
the strength to voluntarily speak their truth, again and
again, in hopes of keeping others from suffering.
They did so because they know it is possible. Tanya
Street lived it. As a recent high-school graduate, Tanya
was vulnerable to the machinations of a pimp who
showered her with love and attention, then turned
her out on the street programmed to believe she was
worthless, invisible, unlovable, without him. Most of the
doctors at her local health care clinic simply reinforced
his brainwashing. Repeatedly, she showed up with urinary
tract infections that had her literally doubled over
in pain. She felt frowned upon, disapproved of. No one in
the emergency room asked her why this kept
happening, if maybe she would like some help beyond
antibiotics. She wonders what would have happened if
just once during those visits, someone had asked her
the right question, or offered her information about
getting help or getting out. She wonders how much
sooner she would have found her voice, started her life.
She wonders what pain she might have avoided.

Harold too knows that if someone at that bank, long
ago, had done something a little differently, perhaps
everything else would have been different and his
family could have avoided some of the pain, fear, and
trauma they live with to this day.Today, Harold and
Tanya have been honorably appointed to the United
States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.
They share their experiences because they believe
others truly can learn from them, and systemic
change can be achieved. But they cannot be
everywhere, talking to everyone, in every hospital
emergency room, bus terminal, at every hotel
front desk, truck stop parking lot, or monitoring the
millions of social media conversations that fly through
the ether at any given time. What Harold, Tanya, and
all the survivors who contributed to this project have
done is recognize the value of mapping the intersections
where human trafficking meets legitimate businesses
and systems. In doing so, they have staked out
new territory, recognizing that if human trafficking is a
business, requiring intense planning and depending on
other businesses and partners to flourish, so too must
the fight against trafficking be a collective undertaking
that is painstakingly plotted and thoughtfully implemented,
in partnership with the businesses that unwittingly
make it possible.