By Jim Kouri
From the nightclub waitress to the young man who launders uniforms at the local dry cleaners back home, Defense Department officials are warning military members and civilians to be on the lookout for possible victims of human trafficking, according to American Forces Press Service’s Lisa Daniel.
Awareness programs are part of an effort throughout the federal government to put the brakes on human trafficking, a form of modern slavery that forces millions of men, women and children from every country of the world into forced labor, prostitution, involuntary servitude and debt bondage, according to DOD and State Department officials.
Upwards of 2 million children are believed to move through the global sex trade each year, according to the State Department’s annual assessment on human trafficking.
The United Nations, the United States and other governments in the past decade have passed stricter laws and allocated more resources in the fight against human trafficking, and President Barack Obama declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
In addition, the multi-billion dollar pornography industry has added a new twist to human trafficking and modern slavery, especially Internet child pornography.
In the government’s interagency approach toward prevention, prosecution and protection involving human trafficking, the Defense Department’s role is one of prevention, according to John F. Awtrey, DOD’s director of law enforcement policy and support, part of the department’s personnel and readiness office.
Human trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon — No. 3 behind drugs and weapons, Awtrey said in a January 31 interview with the Pentagon Channel.
“While traffic victims generally come from the poor places in the world, their destination … is all over the world,” Awtrey said. “A lot of countries where our service members are deployed have evidence of a lot of trafficking, and it’s here in the United States as well.”
DOD’s role primarily is of prevention and, specifically, education so that service members and civilian employees can report suspicious activity, Awtrey said.
“We don’t want our service members to be inadvertent supporters of trafficking,” he said. “It’s a crime; it’s a criminal business enterprise. And the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who say, ‘Well, I just go there to get some drinks,’ if it’s a place where the women working in there have been trafficked and are being held against their will, then you’re supporting that business.”
The Defense Department began training all service members and civilians on indicators of human trafficking after some service members were found in 2004 to be patronizing businesses in Korea involved in trafficking women from Russia and the Philippines, Awtrey said.
Since then, the Uniform Code of Military Justice has made it illegal for service members to visit brothels — the main business involved in human trafficking, Awtrey said. Other businesses common to human trafficking are nightclubs and bars, restaurants, spas, nail salons and dry cleaners, as well as domestic work in people’s homes.
Evidence of human trafficking can be hard to spot, Awtrey acknowledged. “It takes people using their sixth sense to say ‘Something isn’t right here,’” he said. A high turnover of young workers and an inordinate amount of private security are indications, he added.
“If you see something that’s odd, … if there seems to be too much security, … if you’re in the middle of America or you’re downtown in Germany … and there are people [in a restaurant] that look like guards, those guards are there to keep the workers from talking to you about something they shouldn’t, or from escaping,” Awtrey said.
It was that kind of vigilance from an employee at Fort Campbell, Ky., that allowed the FBI to break up a human trafficking ring in the surrounding community, Awtrey said. The worker frequented a Chinese restaurant off base in Tennessee about once a month and noticed every time he was there, the staff — all young — was new. His hunch was right, according to Lisa Daniel.
“That’s part of trafficking — that they never keep people in the same place for long,” Awtrey said. “In human trafficking, unlike with drugs and weapons, people can be sold over and over again. They are a reusable commodity, unfortunately.”
Human trafficking usually occurs not on military installations, but in the surrounding communities. The exception has been overseas, where it was found among subcontractors in Iraq who brought in foreign workers, confiscated their passports, and paid them far below what they were promised, Awtrey said. “We came down hard in Iraq” to correct the problem, he said, but it requires constant vigilance.
“It sounds simple enough sitting around a room at the Pentagon, but making sure it happens on the ground [in theater] is another story,” he said.