'Year-Long Dialog on Human Dignity' continues with human trafficking discussion
by Breanna Wittes
Two guest speakers were present in Kresge Hall on Nov. 9 to bring awareness to human trafficking.
Before events began in Kresge Hall, the crowd was warned that some of the stories that would be shared would be uncomfortable.
The topic of human trafficking is not a pleasant one. Most people think of human trafficking as sexual exploitation, but that isn’t always the case.
Human trafficking includes forced labor, such as sweatshops. Domestic servants can also be victims of human trafficking and people present in our own neighborhoods may be victims.
The first of the two guest speakers, Amy S. Allen, forensic interview specialist for Homeland Security Investigations, provided most of the information of the night.
Allen had a slide show with information about how to identify victims and what to do, along with how she handles cases. Some of the important information explained trafficking.
Most people confuse human smuggling with human trafficking, but that is incorrect. Smuggling is the deliberate evasion of immigration laws while trafficking is the harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person by means of threat or use of force, fraud, or coercion, according to Allen.
While this difference is important, people being smuggled into the country can also become victims of trafficking, being tricked, forced, or coerced once they arrive.
People that were originally being smuggled don’t report that they’ve instead become trafficked because they know that they are in the United States illegally and fear being deported if discovered.
“There’s a number of victim crimes that don’t result in reporting to the police,” said Allen. “And a lot of those are crimes against children, crimes against women, and any kind of shame-based victimization where a victim can take responsibility or will take responsibility for any part of what happened to them.”
Trafficking victims are not informed that they can be safe and not deported. There are protections in place that provide safety for those that have been trafficked, regardless of how they came to the United States or became a victim.
Victims aren’t always trafficked by people they don’t know either. Gaelle Assilenou, a victim of human trafficking, shared her story of being trafficked by her own cousin. Allen was one of the agents who worked on the case.
“I had to trust him,” said Assilenou. “He’s my family, he’s my cousin.”
Assilenou was told to call her cousin “father” when she arrived. Her cousin changed her name and her date of birth without telling her.
Many other children were victims of her cousin as well. They were forced to do chores and received beatings for no reason.
“We told the [school] nurse about the bruises, but nobody really believed anything,” said Assilenou.
She and the others originally told Child Protective Services (CPS), but they would then tell her trafficker what was said, leading to more beatings. They eventually began lying to CPS to stay safe.
When she turned 18, Assilenou was kicked out of the house because her cousin no longer received welfare for her. She found a friend whose family took her in.
The rest of the children were rescued after one of the girls broke her arm and was taken to the hospital, and the doctor reported it to CPS.
Assilenou’s cousin is currently in jail and is still facing charges. The other children have all found good homes and testified against him. Assilenou is planning to write a book about her experiences.
“I just want to say if, in your classroom, if you have a friend or someone who tells you something or ‘this is what’s going on around me,’ at least listen,” said Assilenou. “Pay attention to what they’re saying and help them out.”
by Breanna Wittes
Signs to look for:
Information from The National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the Michigan Abolitionist Project
Amy S. Allen:
To make a tip:
National Human Trafficking Hotline (Translators are available 24/7):
Text HELP or INFO to 233733 (BeFree)
For local help services, visit Vista Maria, which provides help to victims.
Address: 20651 West Warren Street
Dearborn Heights, MI 48127
Main Line: 313-271-3050
Toll Free: 800-7-VISTA-6
Human Resource Dept. Fax: 313-441-1685
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @vistamariaorg
Michigan Abolitionist Project
Address: Michigan Abolitionist Project
PO Box 180603
Utica, MI 48318