I was in a restaurant recently. It was a cafeteria style, where you basically go down a line with people serving you from behind a glass partition, and the customer explains what he or she wants. Think Subway, although it wasn't Subway. I quietly noticed a group of five women, together with one man. All of them were young--early to mid-twenties. I never heard the man speak, but all of the women had thick accents. They sounded Russian, or something like it. The man was at the head of their line, and he waited at the end for all five of the women to choose their food. Each woman presented the cashier with a one hundred-dollar bill, and then the man led them all outside to eat, where they dined without much conversation or interaction. The weather wasn't all that great to eat outside, so they were isolated from the other diners who were all eating indoors. This man never let these women out of his sight, and they never moved independently--they always moved as a group.
I can't prove it, of course--but I can't help but fear these women were victims of human trafficking.
I'll be extremely honest: in that frightening moment, I didn't know what to do. I was afraid for them, and because of my history, I was afraid for me. I didn't know if I should somehow try to intervene, or pass a message, or divert the man who was with them in the hopes that one of the women would be able to flee. I didn't know if I should immediately call the police and report my suspicions, or go and alert the restaurant's manager. Genuinely--I didn't know what to do.
What would you have done, Friend?...Perhaps the bigger question is this: would you have thought anything was wrong in the first place?
Beloved Reader, pay attention, please. Human trafficking is a real thing. Just because we live in the United States, we are not immune from this evil. It is all around us, hiding in plain sight. And it's horrifying.
This group quietly left, before I had decided how to manage this situation. To be honest--I still don't know whether I was right or wrong about them. Perhaps these women weren't being trafficked. I'll never know. But I can't forget them, and I can't forget their families, who may be missing them, perpetually mourning and wondering where their loved ones have gone.
Later, I confided in a friend of mine who is a police officer. I told him everything I had seen, and how helpless I had felt. I confessed my fear, and how I wasn't sure how to manage the situation. Gently, he said, 'there's really nothing you can do. It's so pervasive, and we do our best, but there's really nothing you can do'.
I wasn't sure which emotion I felt most strongly at his words--heartbreak, or anger.
Somberly, I have carried this group of women around in my mind for several days. Like a sore tooth, I poke at them in my mind, wondering where they now are, wondering what has happened to them, acknowledging this group of five is just a tiny fraction of those being moved against their will.
Then randomly, I met another woman. It turned out she is also in Law Enforcement, but she is with the Department of Homeland Security. Genuinely, she was an answered prayer. I told her about what I had seen, and how helpless I'd felt. I explained my fear and sense of inadequacy in the moment, despite every nerve in my body alighting in response to what I was witnessing. She gently smiled, and patiently listened to everything I needed to say. Then she told me she works within the department of DHS that handles human trafficking and child prostitution, and tragically--my suspicions are probably correct. She praised me for my sharp eye, and then gave me a phone number.
Thank God--this random woman who specializes in this horror gave me, and now you, a phone number to call.
Friend--if you suspect someone is being trafficked, whether it is someone you see randomly, or someone with whom you regularly interact--you can make an anonymous report. Here is the phone number to call: 1- 866-347-2423, or report it through this link . Provide as much information as you're able about everyone involved, as well as information about any vehicles being used. Whether its vehicle models, license plate numbers, identifying characteristics about the people--every bit of information you can gather will help law enforcement rescue these victims.
Maybe you're not sure what to look for, so I've directly copied these bullet points from this page of the DHS site:
Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
Has a child stopped attending school?
Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to? (This is what I noticed at the restaurant).
Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?
Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.
If you suspect something is wrong, you can also phone your local law enforcement and make a report in that moment. An officer will show up to investigate and collect all of the information you have gathered. Don't confront the suspected trafficker, or do anything to create risk in the situation. Instead, gather up all the details you see, and turn them over to an agency who can look into it. Friend--you, and now I, are no longer helpless when we suspect this is taking place. Our world is getting smaller, and this is taking place around us. Modern day slaves are being moved in cars, in buses, on trains and through aircraft right under our noses. Please-- look up from your phones and see them.
As you go forward after reading this, please don't be paranoid. Just be aware. YOU, Friend, could be the person who is the start of someone else's freedom.
And just how incredible is that?...
**Chanler Jeffers has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent and was a single parent for many years. She has survived cancer, and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow her at www.TeamJeffers.com as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way--one more thing. She's married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.