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Human Trafficking - You may be closer than you think...

  • Published
  • By Maj. Puanani Miller
  • 169th Civil Engineer Squadron
Do you know or would you recognize the signs of human trafficking? Have you ever witnessed suspicious behavior that could be indicators of human trafficking? Do you know what to do if you did observe suspicious behavior? In other words, how can YOU combat trafficking in persons? Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is a serious violation of human rights akin to modern day slavery and occurs worldwide, even right here in the United States. The number of cases in the U.S. or involving U.S. personnel overseas is staggering according to the Department of State's (DOS) July 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report [, p. 353]. In  fiscal year 2014 alone, the Immigration and Custom Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) opened 987 investigations; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened 835 cases of potential trafficking; the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened 1,083 investigations; the Department of State (DOS) opened 154 cases (worldwide); and the Department of Defense (DOD) investigated 14 trafficking cases involving military personnel.

These statistics indicate you may be closer than you think to human trafficking. Labor trafficking, or forced labor, can occur in service industries that are labor intensive, such as food, janitorial, domestic (e.g., housekeeper), hospitality or construction services. [Defense Human Resources Activity (DHRA) Combating Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) Program, April 2015, p. 5,]  I reported a labor trafficking case while serving as a Contracting Officer in Afghanistan in 2006. The case involved one of our Afghani construction contractors withholding his laborer's passports. In cases like this, the laborer(s) cannot leave their employer (or the country) and are therefore forced to endure whatever conditions the employer imposed. This and other forms of labor trafficking still occur in DoD contracts.
For example, in 2014 the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) opened an investigation involving a DOD contractor allegedly employing improper recruiting tactics of other country nationals (OCNs) to perform on U.S. contracts under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGAP). [DHRA Toolkit, p. 27] Generally speaking, this recruiting tactic involves collecting "recruitment fees" from OCNs.   In order to pay the fee, many OCNs (victims) would need to take out loans, causing them to become indebted and therefore unable to leave their job. 

Another example from FY2014, involves a Bahraini Air Force officer attending the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He and his wife forced a Filipino citizen into domestic servitude. The victim alleged she was unable to leave the house on her own; was not afforded any time off; was not paid according to her contract; and was not properly fed, among other things. [DHRA Toolkit,   p. 27 - 28]

In addition to labor trafficking, sex trafficking is another form of TIP.  As you might expect, sex trafficking is most often associated with bars and brothels; dance clubs and strip clubs; massage parlors and spas; and escort services. [DHRA Toolkit, p.5] In March 2015, a Ft. Hood soldier pleaded guilty to 15 of 21 charges resulting from organizing a prostitution ring using female soldiers. []

Outside the military, but close to home is another example -- in October 2015 ICE's HSI arrested 29 people in eight states for multi-state sex trafficking.  More than 13 Hispanic women and girls from Mexico and Central America were moved through a system of brothels in the southeastern U.S.  []

Becoming a victim of human trafficking can be attributed to many factors, mainly categorized as either push or pull factors according to the DHRA Toolkit (p. 7).  Factors that encourage individuals to leave behind bad or unsafe conditions are push factors, and include: violence, natural disaster, poverty, economic or political instability, lack of job opportunities, prior sexual abuse.  While not causal factors, push factors can increase the risk of exploitation by traffickers.  On the other hand, pull factors are those which entice individuals to leave their current situation in anticipation of: better job opportunities, freedom and liberty, or chances at a better life.  Traffickers use pull factors to trick or lure victims. 

According to the DOS CTIP report for 2015 (p. 352), certain populations within the U.S. are particularly vulnerable to trafficking: children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems; runaway and homeless youth; children working in agriculture; American Indians and Alaska Natives; migrant laborers; foreign national domestic workers in diplomatic households; employees of businesses in ethnic communities; populations with limited English proficiency; persons with disabilities; rural populations; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. 

Understanding the TIP problem is only half the battle.  The other half involves combating trafficking - we all must be observant and report suspicious activity.  What should you look for? 

The table below outlines the common indicators of TIP.  [DHRA Toolkit, p. 8 - 9; and DOS website,]

Displays signs of physical abuse Displays signs of malnutrition
Poor living conditions and/or multiple people in cramped spaces Person(s) must be escorted or closely monitored at all times
Person(s) lives at or is confined to the worksite Inability to speak to individual alone
Debt bondage to employer Dependent on others
Lacks free will Submissive
Fearful, Nervous or Anxious Has no identification / employer holding or withholding ID documents
Answers appear scripted or rehearsed  Unpaid or paid very little

Should you suspect human trafficking, report it -- do not try to intervene.  You have several avenues to report: Security Forces; Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI); the Inspector General's Office; the DOD Hotline (800-424-9098); or your chain of command.  I am the point of contact here on McEntire should you have questions or want additional resources on human trafficking and our role in combating it.  (Maj. Puanani Miller, 647-8255,

1. Standard Curriculum Toolkit, Defense Human Resources Activity (DHRA) Combating Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) Program, April 2015,
2. Trafficking in Persons Report, Department of State, July 2015,