Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Most people think of the South before the Civil War when they hear the word “slave.”
Educated people may think about today’s African nations with their abducted child-soldiers who, as young as 6, are pressed into fighting. Or, the group Boko Haram, which abducted 275 female students — children — to give as a reward to its fighters three years ago. Two hundred of those girls are still missing today.
Modern slavery has a different name in the U.S.: Human trafficking. And, according to the U.S. government’s 2016 report, human trafficking is on the rise.
New Mexico is one of the most prominent gateways for these criminals who either abduct children, women and men, or lure them with promises of a new life to the land where milk and honey flows — the U.S. Once they have them in their grip, they hand them over to other criminal organizations stateside. Once here, they vanish, being sold into prostitution, used for free labor or to private “owners.” Very few escape their terrible fate.
Recent stories tell the barbaric way in which these modern slavers work. The reports coming in of people who died of heat and thirst in the back of a truck in San Antonio, Texas, arrests of underage human trafficking criminals in Albuquerque and, earlier this year, the arrest of an individual in Clovis who tried to buy a 10-year-old girl shows the brutality of the traffickers and their clients.
New Mexico is one of the battlegrounds for local and federal law enforcement to catch the criminals who prey on the most vulnerable.
While there are many organizations who help the victims, there are very few that try to prevent the most innocent, the children, from falling into the hands of modern slavers in their home countries.
An organization that seeks to help prevent children from being abducted into human trafficking is Cause Vision out of New York City. Local artist Tiffany Pascal is one of its members. She is one of the core artists of the organization to help children understand the dangers they might find themselves in and how to prevent it.
This fall, Cause Vision will launch another anti-human trafficking educational comic created by Pascal, “El Paseo Pantera,” aimed at Guatemalan children. The initiative is in collaboration with the organizations Miracles In Action, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking Guatemala.
It is Pascal’s third comic for the organization. Previous comics of hers were distributed in Colombia and Cambodia. All comics are translated into the native language of the country where they are distributed.
The reason Cause Vision chose comics as a tool is the immediate accessibility; even illiterate children can understand its message.
“The majority of human trafficking victims are preteen and teen girls,” Pascal said. “It is a crime that disproportionately affects women and girls, but men are affected, too. In fact, they (Cause Vision) are finding that more and more men are being trafficked. Usually for forced labor, which often involves sex slavery, too, in some cases, like sexual abuse from people who are overseeing them.
“A lot of people are calling it modern slavery because that is exactly what it is. It includes a lot of other crime that people are not always aware of,” Pascal said.
According to Cause Vision, the U.S. is the No. 2 destination (within developed countries) for human trafficking. Russia is No. 1 as the transit and destination country between Europe and Asia.
“There is a lot about the brothel culture versus personal slaves, if you can call it that,” Pascal said. “There is a lot of debate (on federal and state level) about whether or not legalizing prostitution would decrease incidences of human trafficking. Nobody really has a good answer to that. I think decriminalizing prostitution is a first step. Only for the victim, the prostitutes, not the buyer. Putting prostitutes in jail doesn’t help, putting buyers in jail does. That’s not happening.”
Executive director of the Roswell Refuge, Cindy Wilson, is concerned about the rise in human trafficking in New Mexico. Her organization is prepared to help.
“We have not had a confirmed case yet,” Wilson said. “However, we have heard from law enforcement that we (Roswell) are a corridor.
“We are bilingual, so there is no language barrier,” she said. “Plus, we have access to international interpreters with just a phone call. We are here for everyone, regardless of the circumstances.
“We need to continue to get the word out that, if they come to us (the Roswell Refuge or any other refuge) and the person is a victim of domestic violence, they are protected by the U.S. law,” Wilson said. “Their rights are protected. In other words, they will not be sent back. There is a process, but it’s not that the criminals can threaten the victim to send them back. It doesn’t happen. The victim will have his or her chance to present their case. It is protected by the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.” (Enacted in October 2004, the Crime Victims’ Rights Act is part of the Justice for All Act).
“We keep informing the public, but the message doesn’t get across,” Wilson said. “We had people, in my four years at the Roswell Refuge, who came here and said, ‘I don’t want to get sent back.’ We sit down with them and show them that they do not get in trouble. The law will protect them, too.
“I worry that many times those people who are trafficking may be using that form of blackmail in order to have power over the victim. I heard that from law enforcement on a federal level. While we haven’t seen any verified cases to my knowledge, it can happen,” Wilson said. She is concerned that human traffickers are going through Roswell without her knowledge.
“I heard a woman speak about this two years ago at the Victims Advocacy in Action conference (hosted by the New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission). Her tale was heartrending, how they (the traffickers) were threatening her, threatening her child. She was a slave. She got out of it, finally. I sat there in tears. I could not believe her story, so heartbreaking to hear it firsthand,” Wilson said. “This is happening, we know it. We have to talk about it. We are this close to the border.”
There are tools to identify victims of human trafficking available at humantraffickinghotline.org for law enforcement agencies and their personnel as well as for civilians and health care providers who may come in contact with victims of human trafficking. Victims might also seek services such as legal aid or may contact social services without saying that they are victims of human trafficking.
The signs that victims of human trafficking present are very similar to a victim of domestic abuse. Victims are often made dependent of drugs and their families are threatened. Some may develop a psychological phenomenon called Stockholm Syndrome, which develops out of a hostage’s desperation to survive. The victim may identify and bond with his or her captor.
For more information about the Roswell Refuge, visit roswellrefuge.org or call its crisis line at 575-627-8361 or its office at 575-624-3222.
For more information about Pascal and her art, visit tiffany-pascal.com or causevision.org.
Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.