Human trafficking is modern day slavery and it exists in the Wiregrass.
That was the message that Audrey Jordan brought to those attending the Republican Women of Coffee County meeting May 15.
Jordan is an Alabama Attorney General’s assistant and has served as Human Trafficking Coordinator for Attorney General Steve Marshall since 2017. Jordan is also Marshall’s designee for the Human Trafficking Task Force for the Middle District of Alabama.
“At its most basic, human trafficking is compelling another person to perform work, provide services or to engage in commercial sex acts,” Jordan said. “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.
“Human traffickers may not be psychologists but they definitely know how to manipulate their next victim,” Jordan said. “They are master manipulators.”
Jordan called human trafficking a hidden crime. “Victims rarely come forward to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers and/or fear of law enforcement,” she said.
Forced labor is a type of human trafficking, Jordan said. “Victims are found in legitimate and illegitimate labor industries, including sweatshops, massage parlors, agriculture, restaurants, hotels and domestic service.”
There are several misconceptions about human trafficking, Jordan said. “Human trafficking and human smuggling are not the same thing. Smuggling involves an international border; human trafficking doesn’t have to be international.”
It is a myth that victims are always abducted, according to Jordan. “In most of these cases it’s recruitment either in person at a place where people gather or online through dating apps and messenger apps,” she said. “Traffickers convince the victim that they cannot trust anyone else.”
Another myth is that traffickers always work in large criminal networks, Jordan said. “We also see familial trafficking with actual family or street family members involved.
“The people involved in trafficking look just like everybody else,” Jordan said. “They can be the next door neighbor. One trafficker was a ‘beloved’ soccer coach who had his community’s trust and respect for years and who ultimately pled guilty to trafficking.”
A big myth is that human trafficking is not a local problem, Jordan said, noting that in 2017
Alabama there were 184 human trafficking calls received by law authorities which resulted in
69 cases handled by the attorney general’s office. Jordan referenced an October 2017 Coffee County Court case against a woman charged with trafficking that ended in a mistrial.
“These numbers do not include investigations by local law enforcement,” Jordan said. “As of June 2018, there were 107 human trafficking calls on 36 cases.
“In 2019 so far, we’ve had nine people charged with human trafficking,” she said, adding that the gender split of the accused is about half male and half female and ranging in age from 18 to 87 years old.
At least 22 Alabama counties have had human trafficking cases initiated, Jordan said. “The interstate major roadways through our state really make us a hot spot, especially for transient traffickers who are making a circuit from Texas to Tennessee to Atlanta, Ga., and Florida.
“A lot of times we see debt bondage where someone has come into the United States and because they are dependent on their trafficker for basic needs, they incur further debt when the trafficker provides those needs,” Jordan said. “They are never able to actually pay off that debt.”
Jordan encouraged those with information about trafficking to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7883. “Those tips go directly to the law enforcement in your area,” she said.