I recall a time when my awareness of trafficking was low. In my profession, I received training, was taught what to look for, and for the most part, was educated about what trafficking is. However, I didn’t recognize it when it was staring me in the face. I was sheltered. I didn’t worry about persons who were trafficked. It wasn’t my problem or the focus of the agency I worked for. Looking back, I feel differently now. I had a chance to help someone, and I didn’t even know what I was seeing or if there was anything wrong.
For a few months, I would pick up a person for church every Sunday. We will call him Fred (obviously not his real name…) Fred lived in a regular neighborhood home with several other men, he didn’t have a car, and he worked different jobs. The only time he had off from work was Sunday mornings and he chose to go to church with me during that time. He was from another country, and I thought he just enjoyed church. I think now that he enjoyed getting away from his situation. He subtly complained to me about it and how he didn’t care for the other men he lived with. He would regularly chat with and video-call his family who were in his home country. We had a brief conversation about his visa status, and he mentioned that he would rather be in California with his brother. All the documentation he had on him was an identification from his country of origin. I didn’t ask more questions as I felt I was doing him a service by driving him to and from church on Sundays.
I was sheltered in my thinking. Fred was possibly being trafficked and I didn’t even think to ask any questions about it. I assumed that he was “illegally” in the country and that his choices were the consequences of his actions. I didn’t question if he met the act, means, and purpose criteria for a person who was being trafficked. I didn’t get that a person doesn’t have to be transported to be a trafficked person. I didn’t even know that there was assistance available or where to find it. I missed a chance to help a possible victim take steps toward becoming a survivor. I lost contact with Fred. I believe he found a way to California to gain the support of his brother. I wonder how his life would have been different if I hadn’t been so sheltered in my awareness.
One thing I know now, I am not sheltered any longer.