Local academy helps combat human trafficking

April 18, 2011 6:13:03 PM PDT
No one knows for sure how many slave laborers are brought into the U.S. each year, but the Bay Area was among the first to crack down on the crime and it's where people from all over the world come to learn how to combat slavery in their countries.

San Jose Police Lt. John Vanek runs a human trafficking task force with officers from his department, the FBI, ICE, the U.S. Attorney's office and several other agencies.

"We find victims, and then we have to help them through the survival process," says Vanek. "Just in the San Jose area we've identified over 150 trafficking victims in the past few years. We know we are just barely scraping the surface."

That's why the police can't do it alone. Vanek talks to enrollees in what's called an Abolitionist Academy in San Francisco. It's where volunteers from the Bay Area and all around the world are gathering to find out what human trafficking looks like and what they can do about it. The academy is sponsored by the anti-slavery group Not for Sale.

"Initially, the campaign was all about helping people become aware of the problem of human trafficking and modern day slavery," said Donald Batstone of Not for Sale. "Within a couple of years we realized that awareness is great, but it's important to get people engaged in what they can do."

"I feel this issue has been long neglected in modern society and it needs to be addressed," said Eddy Byun of Seoul, South Korea.

"I think what is important about the academy is it kind of connects the modern abolitionist, you know the normal person, to the wider movement, and that's what we need to end slavery as a global movement," said Jonathan Hirt of Sydney, Australia.

In the Bay Area we are most familiar with trafficking into the sex trade -- young women brought to America and forced to work as prostitutes until the police or time catch up with them. But there are other types of trafficking.

"Only about 20 percent of our victims have come from the commercial sex trade. Victims are coming from domestic servitude, other types of service, debt bondage, and that occurs routinely throughout the entire country," said Vanek.

The students will go back into their communities and try to practice what they've been preached -- work together with public and private organizations to get people freed.

How do you spot someone who may be trafficked? They can't come and go as they please, they work long hours for little pay, and they may appear fearful or anxious or paranoid.

"For me this was different than just another cause, because there are actual people; there are lives that are being violated. There are people being enslaved in ways that I don't think we quite get in this time and in this century," said Sara Williams of Pleasant Hill.


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