Human trafficking in New Mexico is a growing concern. The state is part of a known route that includes Denver, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, and Compton. In its most recent Federal Human Trafficking Report, the Human Trafficking Institute ranked New Mexico 23rd in the nation for active human trafficking cases with eight cases and two prosecutions. One of the reasons prosecutions are not higher in these types of cases is because victims who are fortunate enough to escape their captors are too terrified to testify against them. Human traffickers and their victims can hide in plain sight. New Mexicans can help fight against human trafficking in their state by knowing how to spot the warning signs and which agencies to involve if they suspect trafficking.
What is human trafficking?
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking involves using physical force, fraud, or other forms of coercion to get free labor from victims or make them engage in commercial sex acts. Traffickers are manipulators. They might make false promises – such as helping undocumented immigrants become citizens – or use physical force and intimidation to get their victims to do what they want. No community is immune from this horrendous crime. Victims can be any age, gender, nationality, or race. Fear of law enforcement and language barriers can keep some human trafficking victims from seeking help on their own.
Recognizing the key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and removing them from a dangerous situation. All the following warning signs may be present, or only a few. If you suspect human trafficking, never approach the potential victim or their captor. Doing so can put the victim in further jeopardy. Information on how to report suspected human trafficking is included later in this blog. Here are some of the warning signs you should look for to help combat trafficking in your community.
Warning signs of human trafficking
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides several warning signs to help spot human trafficking.
- Appearing malnourished. Withholding adequate food and water is one of the methods traffickers use to maintain control of their victims. Not only does it make them physically weak and less likely to try to escape, but it also makes them more beholden to their captors since they determine how much – or how little – nourishment they receive.
- Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures. These three things may not always signal someone is a victim of trafficking, but they can be strong indicators in those who fall into this category. Victims often are forced to isolate themselves and limit interactions with others for fear someone may catch on to what is happening to them.
- Showing signs of physical abuse. Bruises, broken bones, and other visible injuries can be signs that someone is being forced into a situation. Physical threats and intimidation are common tactics used by traffickers to keep their victims from seeking help.
- Lacking official identification documents. While this also can be a sign that someone is an undocumented immigrant, the inability to produce a driver’s license or other form of identification can be a red flag that the person is a trafficking victim. Traffickers try to keep their victims from getting access to any personal identification to keep them trapped in their situation.
- Using scripted responses during social interactions. Traffickers hide their victims in plain sight. They might force them to work in their public-facing businesses as a form of free labor. To pull this off, they must find ways to strongarm them into not saying the wrong thing when interacting with customers. If you patronize a business and have an interaction with an employee that feels a bit too scripted, it might be a sign of trouble.
Who is most vulnerable to trafficking?
Human traffickers target certain populations because they are easier to control. Data collected by the Polaris Project indicates people of color and those in the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to be trafficked than any other demographic. The group attributes the increased risk to the general trauma, historic oppression, and other societal factors and inequities that these two groups experience. Traffickers are highly skilled at recognizing and exploiting weaknesses in their victims.
Sex traffickers are experts at grooming their victims. They work hard to gain their trust and then create a dependent relationship. They convince their victims that selling sexual services is normal and even necessary. Some victims may even believe they have made the choice to participate in sexual exploitation of their own free will.
How to report suspected trafficking
Never directly approach a suspect victim of human trafficking about their situation. Doing so can further jeopardize their safety. Their abusers often are nearby and may later punish them for your attempts to help.
The U.S. Department of State recommends alerting the nearest law enforcement agency if you become aware of a situation that feels off. Calling 911 is the quickest way to get connected with the appropriate department. You also can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 888-373-7888. This national tip hotline operates 24/7 and offers multilingual operators to callers.
Care Net Pregnancy Center of Albuquerque is a safe space for victims of human trafficking. If you need immediate assistance, stop by any of our locations and ask to speak to one of our caring staff members. No one needs to know the real reason for your visit. As providers of free pregnancy testing, free STD/STI testing, and free limited pregnancy ultrasounds, we see people for many reasons. We can help connect you with the resources needed to free you from your current situation and to ensure those responsible face consequences for their actions.