Guest column: From Blackfoot to Boise to Brazil

Human trafficking isn’t just a huge problem at major events such as the World Cup, it’s a problem right here at home, writes Jason Joyner.

By Jason Joyner

The World Cup in Brazil is a huge event, which draws visitors from around the world. It is also a magnet for human trafficking, from slave labor to sexual exploitation. There’s been a lot of work to highlight the issue there, but these insidious practices don’t just exist in foreign countries or at high-profile events.

They happen in Idaho.

Earlier this year, a man was indicted for trafficking in Portland, Ore. One of the charges he faced was for luring an 18-year-old girl from an Idaho mall. Even more chilling was his memoir, which was seized by police. In it he described the process he used for grooming victims. A few excerpts:

“I like playing small rural cities with small populations. … I generally let them know that they’re so much better than the town they’re currently in and how much potential I see in them. … I flash a wad of cash so big it could choke an elephant. I then come at them with some modeling or, ‘You could be an actress type’ (stuff). Within an hour, they’re usually hooked.”

The threat is real, and if there isn’t awareness of the problem, it will continue to operate in the shadows, threatening innocent people with slavery.

Slave labor can be found within our immigrant population. Whether here legally or illegally, these folks are an at-risk group for being forced into debt labor where they are charged by their employer for living expenses above what their wages pay, effectively keeping them trapped.

Sexual exploitation often happens with children, teens or adults who are marginalized. They are coerced into forced prostitution with false promises or outright kidnapping. Runaways, foster kids and those from broken homes are in at-risk situations.

Do not, however, assume this is only a concern for those living in difficult situations. Rebecca Bender was from a good home, a good student and in college when she started dating a man. He isolated her from family and friends and sold her for sex. Now she has escaped and works to fight against trafficking. (www.rebeccabender.org).

This isn’t a fun subject to talk about, and I’ve written about it before. However, it requires attention because it is a serious issue that needs to be continually exposed. More and more, criminal types are moving into trafficking because if you sell drugs once, they’re gone. But a person can be used repeatedly.

Rebecca Bender said in an interview, “No one looks for something they don’t know exists.” A saying at my work is if it “just doesn’t look right” then be wary. If you see a situation where someone seems to be controlled by another, it may need to be reported.

One person can’t do it alone. We can multiply our efforts if readers of this newspaper learn about human trafficking to protect family and friends from it, and help to identify people already caught in it.

Check out The Ivy Movement, a Boise-based non-profit dedicated to fighting trafficking for more information.

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