By Rene Quintana

A roundtable of the most powerful Latina women met in Washington D.C. Sept. 13-15 and were determined to put an end to human and sexual trafficking.

The roundtable shared information on what amounts to be one of the most disturbing crises developing in this century. Some call it trafficking, others refer it to it as “contracting,” but in reality it is modern-day slavery. One of the biggest victims are adults with intellectual disabilities.

The majority of human trafficking comes from Mexico. Mexican migrants are rounded up and placed under the control of one of several transporters. Most of the victims have little to no education, speak limited English and those people are enslaved for contract labor. Sometimes they are paid and sometimes they are not.

Working under the Department of Labor during Hurricane Katrina, I recall that unscrupulous contractors would hire Mexican migrants to work the dangerous broken-down homes and clear debris only not to be paid. If they complained they would be deported.

The roundtable further discussed human sexual trafficking where women are forced into sexual slavery and are subjected to countless diseases that are often untreated and they are left to die. The horror stories mounted as victims of this crime testified.

This problem is now gaining national attention and under the guidance of the Department of Justice, other federal agencies such as Women Against Violence and the Department of Urban Development are getting involved.

At the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime roundtable, victims shared with us the nightmare of sexual trafficking and how some are forced to go into this at 12 years of age. One woman stated, “I was so victimized I didn’t know,” expressing how controlled they are when they are raised to see this type of behavior as a norm.

Some may ask, what of family, friends and circles of support? Many victims who come from extreme poverty have none. Some girls were given to sexual trafficking by their families or relatives. Some women are adults with intellectual disabilities and are forced into this prostitution with no one to protect them.

Many adults with intellectual disabilities are victimized in human trafficking because they too come from impoverished families that may see them as a liability. So they contract the child out. Disturbing as it may sound, the child is usually never seen again.

Many of us who work with migrant families have seen these camps. I personally could never place what exactly was going on with these workers other than there was always a fear among them; even to make eye contact. Some of us may even know a victim of sexual trafficking.

There is now an official campaign by our federal government to put an end to forced labor and sexual trafficking. Organizations that specialize in assisting adults with intellectual disabilities, who in my opinion make up a good percentage of this abused population, need to acknowledge this form of abuse and assist the victims in getting out of their situation regardless of their immigration status. These victims cease to be human and often disappear into obscurity.

The roundtable expressed that, in terms of labor camps, “it’s a controlled situation” where companies subcontract labor, usually in construction, to do the work that is required. What occurs is the subcontractor hires a main contact who then handles the contract. The construction company may pay minimum wage or more, but the main contact may pay its undocumented workers, mostly from Mexico, less than minimum wage. Also, many workers reach America in debt to the contractor because the contractor may have upfronted the cost for them to get to America.

This also applies to women and sexual trafficking where they are indebted to the transporter. Sometimes they are in debt for many years.

The roundtable also mentioned how families are intimidated by contractors. Some of these unscrupulous individuals will go to the homes of runaway victims of sexual trafficking and pay the families to inform on them if they should return home. If the victim does return home and the family complies, the contractor would come by the family home and basically kidnap the victim and place her back into sexual slavery. Currently, the highest levels of sexual and labor slavery are coming from Mexico and China.

Rene Quintana is leader of Supported Living Services at Rural Human Services.