Michelle Mann

Think “human trafficking” and some sort of third world country comes to mind.

We tend to visualize creepy men with faces hidden grabbing victims and shoving them into the back of get-away cars.

But the reality is that human trafficking—modern day slavery—is less subtle and it exists in the Wiregrass. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the United Sates, behind illegal drugs, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

Traffickers are attracted to areas such as ours because action can be kept under the radar. In fact, the stretch of I-20 between Atlanta and Birmingham is knows as the “Sex trafficking superhighway.”

While we tend to stereotype human trafficking as sex trafficking, many times the trafficking takes the form of debt bondage and servitude, Alabama Assistant Attorney General Audrey Jordan said at a recent Republican Women of Coffee County meeting where she was keynote speaker.

Victims are found in legitimate and illegitimate industries to include agriculture, restaurants, hotels and domestic service. Debt bondage sometimes happens when 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. They are never able to actually pay off that debt.

Human trafficking is called a “quiet crime’ because victims rarely come forward for a variety of reasons to include a language barrier, fear of the trafficker and/or fear of law enforcement.

With the stroke of a pen, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey made the “quiet crime” less quiet by signing into law stricter penalties for those who hinder enforcement of the human trafficking laws in the state.

Ivey also signed into law a requirement that all new commercial driver licensees undergo industry-specific human trafficking training. Truckers Against Trafficking, a national organization that trains truckers on identifying human trafficking victims, will work with junior colleges and trade schools to develop training.

The new laws strengthen the state’s human trafficking law passed in 2010 and Safe Harbor Act passed in 2016. A crime occurs when a trafficker “uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his or her will.”

Under the new enhanced penalty law, a person commits the crime of human trafficking in the first degree if he or she “knowingly subjects another person to labor servitude or sexual servitude through use of coercion or deception.”

Human trafficking in the first degree is a Class A felony and so is obstructing or in any way interfering with the enforcement of this law.

“A corporation…may be prosecuted for human trafficking in the first degree for an act or omission only if an agent of the corporation or entity performs the conduct which is an element of the crime while acting within the scope of his or her office or employment and on behalf of the corporation and the commission of the crime was either authorized, requested, commanded, performed or within the scope of the person’s employment on behalf of the corporation or constituted a pattern of conduct that an agent of the corporation knew or should have known was occurring,” according to the law.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-888-373-7883. The tips remain anonymous and are sent directly to the law enforcement in the area being reported.

At least 36 human trafficking cases were reported in Alabama in 2017, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. More than 111 victims of human trafficking in Alabama have called its hotline to date this year.

Human trafficking is a reality in our area—not just in very large cities with populations less caring than we prefer to think we are.

Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at mmann@southeastsun.com.

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