Photo Caption:  Conference keynote speaker Emma Catague (left) and human rights champion Velma Veloria (middle) pose with an attendee. Photo credit: Simona Trakiyska.

Don’t just ask us to tell you our story,” a human trafficking survivor implored. “We are more than a story.”

The young person spoke last Saturday, Jan. 11 as part of  the two-day conference on human trafficking held at the University of Washington’s (UW’s) Seattle campus in observance of  National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. After finding the courage to contact government officials, Jayson, who asked that his last name not be published, was rescued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The conference, “Human Trafficking in the Era of Globalization”  was organized by UW Women’s Center, sparked dialogue about modern-day slavery, labor and sex trafficking. A variety of topics were discussed, including forced migration, labor rights, international trade agreements and public health. Victims and experts from a range of fields were invited to share their experiences, suggestions and solutions.

Poverty is a huge factor in driving young people into human trafficking, according to Lila Shahani, keynote speaker, assistant secretary of the Philippines’ Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster. Because of limited economic resources in her country, many young people have no choice but to pursue life elsewhere.

Many young women are offered jobs overseas as waitresses, Shahani said. She described a young Filipino woman who came across a job opportunity, and in no time received her “arranged’’ travel documents by the recruiters. She left the Philippines in a small boat, hoping to start a new life, but by the time the boat reached a Malaysian port, she found herself enchained.

“It is very complicated in the Philippines, because of this economic cluster,” Shahani said. “Human trafficking is a discourse of silence that you have to swim through.”

Shahani expressed gratitude for the efforts of the Phillipine’s President Benigno Aquino and government agencies that are continuously working together toward the prevention of human trafficking. These efforts have resulted in numerous successful prosecutions against traffickers, she said. However, despite all global efforts, human trafficking is a still a deep, underground phenomenon that keeps growing worldwide.

Shahani suggested that one solution is to continue the aggressive work, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, of shutting down and prosecuting businesses that expose women or men to prostitution and forced labor. An additional approach could be to develop a better mechanism to identify the victims and to monitor the latest trafficking methods. Shahani said improving the global economy would lower the rates of forced migration across domestic and international borders as fewer young people would seek out jobs elsewhere.

Worldwide, “the lack of employment opportunities and the gap between the rich and the poor forces people to migrate,” said Neha Misra, senior specialist on migration and human trafficking at the Solidarity Center of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Misra, who spoke about forced migration and labor rights, suggested that if we want to fix the problem of human trafficking we need to look at the issue more broadly.

“(A) migration worker is anyone who has left his or her home to search for a job,” she said.

More than a dozen speakers and panel participants made it clear that in order to be effective, policy makers need to actively work toward strengthening international and domestic human rights policies.

At the local level, and in timing with National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, which was Jan. 11, King County has launched a campaign to increase human trafficking. The county released a statement that the campaign will educational ads on 200 Metro buses that assist people in identifying victims of human trafficking. The county will also train key county staff on how to recognize victims.

The county encourages people to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888 if they suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking or if they are victims themselves.

For more resources, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center for help at 1-888-373-7888. You may also contact the local Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN) and victim assistance line at 206-245-0782 for to report human trafficking abuse.

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