Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Radars Up: Everyday People Making A Difference With Eyes Wide Open

Our local newspaper reported an attempted kidnapping last week. An eleven year old girl was walking home from school when an "unidentified female" grabbed her from behind and tried to take her away. Thankfully (miraculously?), the girl managed to escape.  We don't know enough yet to say whether this "unidentified female" was a trafficker (or associated with one) or not; but while I'm deeply relieved for this young girl and her family, my “red flags” (danger! danger!) are still waving with vigor.  Was this girl going to be trafficked?  Is there more to come?   

Nail salons are notorious hideouts for trafficking operations.  The small town I live in (pop. 27,697) has an inordinate number of them (11).  The hopeful part of me doesn't want to believe any of them are dirty, but how can a town this size support that many nail salons?  

The radar
As I've continued to learn about trafficking, I've felt an internal "radar" developing in me.  It picks up on details like these -- ones I would have previously overlooked -- that MAY indicate something trafficking-related is going on.  Perhaps a similar radar is growing in you, and you're finding yourself becoming more tuned-in, more watchful.  That radar is an essential part of our movement, and I'll talk about that in a minute. 

But first, a word of caution. There’s a fine line between being watchful and being paranoid; and at the risk of stating the obvious:  we DO want to be watchful, we DON'T want to be paranoid.  History is a good teacher here.  In the witch trials of 1692 and the investigations of suspected communists led by Senator McCarthy in the early 1950’s, individuals were accused of being a “witch” or “communist” with only shaky (or no) evidence to back it up. Paranoia motivated strange actions that did a lot of harm.  In our present movement to end human trafficking, I have no interest in replicating either the paranoia or the harm of those low points in our history.   

We have to be more intelligent than that. The term "witch hunt" came to mean "an intensive effort to discover and expose disloyalty, subversion, dishonesty, or the like, usually based on slight, doubtful or irrelevant evidence." (italics mine)  And THAT'S where the fine line is:  am I working with slight, doubtful and/or irrelevant evidence, or am I working with substantial, witnessed and relevant evidence?  In both of the situations I described at the beginning of this blog, I don't have enough evidence yet to conclude something trafficking-related is happening and consider action.  Yet.  

That said, one of the most powerful weapons in this war on trafficking is well-informed, everyday people who have their radars up.  They know the signs of potential trafficking situations, are watchful, and know how to respond when they see something suspicious.  They have substantial, witnessed and relevant evidence, and they know what to do with it.

The Polaris website is helpful here.  They have a page called "Recognizing the Signs" that is a good starting point for understanding what to be on the lookout for.  

What to not do, and what to do, if you see something suspicious 
DON'T try to perform a "rescue" by yourself, even if you think you have serious Ninja skills and watch lots of rescue-themed TV dramas.  The people who run trafficking rings care very little for human life outside their own, and can be dangerous.  If you attempt a rescue and do it poorly, it can result in serious harm, both to yourself and the person(s) you're trying to help.  This is one area where it's important to embrace different roles:  you focus on providing substantial information to the right people, and then let highly-trained people do the interventions.  

DO call the National Trafficking Hotline, one of the more widely-used and respected resources for reporting suspected trafficking activity.  They receive about 1000 calls every month, and about 15% are from common people reporting suspicious activity.  Let me highlight that:  every month, 150 people just like you and me are calling the hotline with tips that sometimes lead to the breakup of trafficking rings, freedom for those trafficked and justice for the traffickers.  I encourage you to snoop around on the Polaris website to get familiar with how this works, perhaps starting on these pages: and  Their number is 1-888-3737-888, and their Hotline Call Specialists are available 24/7/365.  Information you provide will be redirected to specialized law enforcement and/or service providers in the area where the activity you're reporting is happening. 

DO call your local police. Since we're in the beginning of the movement, some departments are more aware and trained than others; but especially if you're providing substantial evidence that suggests criminal activity, they will be glad you called and know what to do next.   .

Bob Atherton is Amirah's Executive Director of Operations    

1 comment:

  1. Having lived in a situation of proximity to regular sex trade situations I have a radar that sometimes borders on paranoia....your article is a helpful reminder to be aware but not permanently suspicious. I also am learning not to carry the emotional weight with me....reporting things, praying, and supporting people in their direct care work can help me do my part and let go of the image, question, fear for someone else that I might hold in response.