Sure, it's common to think that mail order brides, massage parlor workers, the person you hire to clean your house, farm workers or nannies are here illegally. But, they could also be modern-day slaves. And some slave traffickers see Idaho as a perfect place to practice their trade.
Now add Anna Almerico to the exchange. The fresh-faced mother of two is a program manager for immigration services with Catholic Charities of Idaho. She wants us to know that some victims--people who are forced into sex or labor by force, fraud or coercion--don't even know they're victims. Many are too afraid to report their oppression. While the practice of slave-trading isn't commonly known in Idaho, Almerico thinks the Gem State could be a hot spot for the practice. Learn more about human trafficking at the Stop Human Trafficking Conference this Friday at the Boise State Student Union Hatch Ballroom from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
BW: Why is Idaho fertile ground for slave trafficking?
The distance and the isolation that we have in rural Idaho make the state ideal for trafficking. The traffickers will often confuse the people about where they are by taking them someplace for awhile and moving them around. And it's been brought to our attention that that could be happening here.
How does someone become a victim of human trafficking or slavery?
We've heard of the "baby bride" situations, where men bring girls over on tourist visas and keep them here. One person found [a victim] on the Internet and he went to her home country and made a lot of promises. And he asked her to come here as his wife. But it turned out that he had a house cleaning business and he would drop her off to work from 7 in the morning until 9 at night without food. And she was expected to work because she was his wife.
The men who are doing this are smart about it. They make it look glamorous or that they are in love or this is their dream relationship. But it's not legal to marry girls who are 14.
What has shocked you most in your work with slave and trafficking victims?
When you think of slavery, you think of it as being abolished. But then you hear about people being withheld food or blankets or sleeping with the dogs. We still have a ways to go. In the U.S., 700 to 800 people came forward as of last year. That doesn't sound like much but that's still a lot. They say that the 700 to 800 that came forward is just a small percentage of victims. It's estimated that there's 50,000 victims in the U.S. Also what's shocking is the sexual abuse. And why would you say anything if this person has so much power over you?
What makes it so easy to hold a person in slavery?
They so often use legitimate covers like work visas. But a lot of us are overworked and it's hard to follow up on every industry and make sure every industry is working as it should. Often the victims are so oppressed that they're afraid to talk.
What are some of the signs of human trafficking?
A nurse called who said that a woman was brought in for an illness and the woman and the man who brought her in didn't speak the same language. And she wasn't allowed to speak and wouldn't make eye contact. The eye contact is a big thing. If a cleaner turns out to not have identification, which is often confiscated by a trafficker as a means to control the victim, or their paycheck is being withheld--that's a sign. We think they aren't allowed to be out in public, so we're trying to reach out [and educate] the police, medical workers, post office workers and people who work at grocery stores--people who are likely to see victims on a daily basis.
What else should people know about human trafficking?
The initial concept that it exists. It's so easy to walk around and feel like we've taken care of everything. And it's a safety issue. It's a form of terrorism taking place here. And if we allow it to happen, we're not setting the prime example. It's written into our Constitution that we should be looking out for it and do something about it.