Human trafficking is closer to many of us than we would like to think - this nonprofit in California's San Joaquin Valley offers business and government leaders ideas on how to take on this crisis affecting many communities.
Human trafficking is still a crisis across much of the world, though to many a company’s credit, more businesses are increasingly taking on this problem across their supply chains.
An ongoing problem, however, is that human trafficking and slavery is closer to many of us than we would like to think. According to the most recent Global Slavery Index, on any given day in the U.S. during 2016, there were 403,000 people suffering in conditions of modern slavery. Put another way, here’s a statistic that should make anyone uncomfortable: 1.3 people per 1,000 citizens across the U.S. are in the grips of modern slavery.
These people are not necessarily in the shadows, but are in our plain sight, and are enduring horrid conditions against their will. Of the over 1,000 cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline during 2016, the most common sectors to which human trafficking is linked include domestic work, agriculture, traveling sales, restaurant or food services, and health and beauty services. Prostitution, of course, also has its ties to human trafficking in cities and towns across the U.S.
California’s San Joaquin Valley and its largest city, Fresno, have long been a focal point for human trafficking. Its stubborn poverty, lack of economic opportunities and good-paying jobs compared to many U.S. regions, and seasonal, low-wage work such as agricultural employment together contribute to the Valley’s struggle with modern-day slavery.
Fortunately, law enforcement across the San Joaquin Valley, as well as within communities nationwide, have come to realize that those subjected to human trafficking are not criminals but are in fact victims of the human trafficking trade.
So what happens to these women, children and men, once they are freed from this criminal system? The hard part has been done – as in freeing them of the organized crime and gang syndicates to which plenty of women, children and men have fallen prey.
Now, the even harder part awaits – reintroducing these people back to society, healing them from the trauma under which many endured for years, and offering them the social and job skills needed to rebuild their lives.
One important organization making this transformation possible in Fresno and the wider San Joaquin Valley region is Breaking the Chains, a nonprofit that works with law enforcement agencies at all levels of government to provide the much-needed “4 R’s” crucial for survivors of human trafficking: rescue, relocation, restorative and residential services. The organization operates a safe house that offers secure shelter to survivors, as well as a trauma center that provides various services to past human trafficking victims. Founded in 2014, the organization is in rapid expansion mode and benefits from the support, including health care, building materials and legal services, thanks to a wide array of San Joaquin Valley-based businesses.
Breaking the Chains’ rapid success offers a template to cities, and corporations conducting business in them, on how they can address the needs of human trafficking survivors. For Breaking the Chains’ co-founders, Debra Rush and Tiffany Apodaca, the easier part was getting the buy-in from local police and law officials. The harder part, however, is always securing that financial and logistical support so this (and any) organization can give a hand up to people finally free of what was once a horrific existence.
But changing the lives of the formerly enslaved is happening in Fresno, which by many accounts is the second-poorest metropolitan area in the U.S. If the fight against human trafficking and its perpetrators can succeed here, there is no reason why the same cannot occur elsewhere in the U.S. Companies that want to do their part to solve one of the most intractable social problems in the U.S., and can provide financial, material and staffing support, should look at Breaking the Chains’ track record for ideas on how they can give a hand up to some of the most vulnerable people within their communities.
Image credit: Andrew Neel/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.