New Calcasieu Parish coalition aims to end exploitation
Published 6:37 am Sunday, September 18, 2022
Nationally, Louisiana ranks 26th in reported human trafficking cases, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Southwest Louisiana is making strides to counteract the effects of human trafficking with the creation of the United Against Human Trafficking Coalition in Calcasieu Parish.
The coalition was launched August 25, 2022. At the launch was human trafficking expert Eileen Dong.
Dong is a TEDx Speaker and Consultant, State of Texas Human Trafficking Survivor Leader Council, and Executive Director of Hope PYX Global. She considers human trafficking education her passion, and has been able to offer both general and local perspectives.
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She stated that a primary aspect of human trafficking is coercion. According to the United States Department of Justice, human trafficking is “trafficking in persons or modern-day slavery,” and “is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts.”
Dong’s experience supports this definition, explaining that if “someone is coerced into doing something they do not want to do, then that is human trafficking.”
She identified 3 tactics of coercion that human traffickers utilize to entrap victims: Gorilla, Romeo, and Familial.
Gorilla traffickers are the more stereotypical perpetrators. These traffickers use brute force and intimidation to capture and coerce victims.
“This is someone who is really scary, usually a muscular man who looks like a criminal,” she said. “That type of trafficker is easier to look out for.”
Dong stated that, however, the more elusive traffickers are the ones that rely on manipulation.
One category is romeo traffickers. These traffickers coerce victims by manipulating them within romantic relationships. She said that these traffickers will pretend to be a romantic partner and isolate victims from their families and loved ones.
“They take control of you because they will manipulate you to believe that nobody loves you,” she explained. “They’ll make you believe nobody else cares about you, and that you’re not worthy.” Then they’ll tell you ‘but I love you.’”
Romeo traffickers will force you into physical and mental isolation, and convince you that they are the only person that loves you. Dong explained that they will “love-bomb” a victim by showering them with gifts, giving them undivided attention, not leaving their side.
“If it’s too good to be true, then you need to watch out,” she said.
Similar tactics are used in the third form of coercion. Familial trafficking is a form of trafficking in which the family members are the perpetrators.
This form of trafficking is especially dangerous, as victims often don’t realize they are being, or have previously, been trafficked.
“I have personally interviewed people who were 50 to 60 years old, and they didn’t even know they were trafficked,” she explained. She continued by stating that many victims of familial trafficking simply believed that they were helping their families that were experiencing financial crisis, not realizing that they were being coerced through guilt.
“Back then, there wasn’t the type of awareness work that we are doing right now.”
Dong stated that much of the manipulation that is used by traffickers has been coined as “grooming.” Grooming is defined as the criminal activity of becoming friends with a person in an effort to manipulate or coerce them into participating in unsavory or illegal behaviors.
A key warning sign for civilians to look out for is abuse. The tactics, transgressions, and symptoms that arise from human trafficking are sometimes indiscernable from those that arise from domestic abuse.
Dong continued by explaining the intersections of abuse that are utilized to traffic individuals with the power and control wheel. “If you look at the power and control wheel, you’ll see that in domestic violence cases it is very similar.
“So, it’s like a cycle,” she said. “At first, they will be romantic to you, then they will control you, then they will commit various forms of abuse to you.” For Dong, it is important to know that physical abuse is not the only form of domestic abuse. Victims can also experience economic, mental, and emotional abuse.
Ways civilians can help victims
One of the most important ways in which civilians can assist human trafficking victims is to educate themselves on the the symptoms of surviving instense abuse.
Survivors of human trafficking experience PSTD for a lifetime.
“If they have physical scars or pain, those will fade with time,” Dong explained. “But the emotional damage will never be recovered. It will never be the same again.”
“Understand that most of these victims will experience PTSD for the rest of their lives.”
As a side effect of PTSD, many victims will experience triggers in real time during public interactions. In these situations, civilians have the opportunity to offer impactful aid.
“We have victims that have had a gun pointed to their head,” Dong recalled. “So when they go to an event like a hunting party, they can freak out.”
“So, I want our community to really step back and consider why this person is acting like this instead of making a jump into a quick judgment.”
She, as well as the fellow victims that she has interviewed and interacted with, are haunted by the trials they faced while being trafficked and experience a continuous fear of their abusers.
Dong stated in the most serious cases, victims will live in fear of their abuser even after that person has died. It is important to treat victims with kindness and understanding for this reason. “I would strongly urge our community to really have empathy, and that empathy comes from education.”
Civilians interacting or aiding victims need to be mindful of a victims’ comfort level in regards to discussing their abuse. Dong explained that many victims do not come forward, or feel comfortable telling their stories due to fear or shame.
“Some people are ready to speak, but some people are not ready to speak. They all go through different parts of their journey.”
Much of this mindfulness depends on cultural competency. According to the data from Human Trafficking Hotline, this highest risk groups are females, adults, and foreigners. This means that many victims are illegal immigrants. Displaced victims carry their culture with them, which can lead to cultural dissonance.
Dong, who is a human trafficking surivor herself, has experienced a form of shame that is attributted to her Chinese culture. “My own family, they take me as damaged goods, because they believe that I brought shame to my family,” she stated. “In reality, the crime happened to me, I did not bring the crime to me.”
“This is a huge, huge pain within me.”
Shame culture is not exclusive to Chinese, or even Asian, culture, Dong said. She stated that during her case studies, she has found that nearly all cultures have a form of shame culture.
“It’s not just the Chinese. It’s not even just Asians. It is everyone.” She has worked with victims that are Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hispanic, Black, and white. “I have learned that there are so many similarities in the cultures.”
“I will not stop advocating as an Asian advocate and be the voice for that community, but I also want everyone else to understand that this happens to everyone… experiencing the cultural stigma that we need to overcome.”
Civilians can help victims of different cultures by respecting their decision to disclose traumas, researching their cultures, and providing them with an empathetic environment.
“They have to flee that kind of trafficking, that means they’re going to have to isolate themselves from that family member and possibly the whole family,” she said. “So, provide support to them, show them the love environment that they have never experienced before.”
Bringing about change
It will take more than civilian aid to fight against human trafficking. Legislative change is the most efficient way to deter traffickers.
Dong stated that her home state of Texas has taken great strides over recent years. Unfortunately, Texas’ efforts to increase legal punishments for traffickers has moved crime elsewhere.
There is a greater risk for human trafficking in Louisiana, according to Dong. With the increased legislation that has been instituted in Texas, traffickers have migrated to neighboring states.
“In our neighboring states… cases have gone up,” she said. “I know that is because of the extra work and the policies from the Governor’s office… work is being done, and we are emphasizing on the punishment for traffickers and buyers.”
“So, that is pushing people away.”
Dong explained that human trafficking is a “$150 billion business.” “We have to think like traffickers,” she stated. “If they are punished, directly or indirectly, that affects the money part of their business.”
With the greater influx of trafficking that is occurring in Louisiana as a result, it is more important than before to enact legislative change in the state.
For Dong, the needed legislative change is deeper than punishment for perpetrators. Policy changes need to be made to better support victims with housing.
“In Texas, there are 315,000 victims of trafficking, but across the entire nation, there are only a few 100 beds,” she explained. “The deficit is a no-brainer… if they do not have a place to stay, do we expect them to sleep on the street?”
She stated that it is imperative to develop funding for shelters. These shelters, as well as medical care plans, need to be developed to fight the needs of various demographics. Many victims find themselves unable to find shelters or care that is tailored to their lived experience.
“There are few to none shelters for men and LGBTQ+ community members,” she explained. “We need to provide the service regardless of their social, economic, or educational background, or their nationality.”
“This is human right. No one deserves to be treated like that. Everyone needs to have fair treatment, and to be rescued.”
How to help
The best way for SWLA citizens to volunteer their time to fight against human trafficking to to join the United Against Human Trafficking Coalition in Calcasieu Parish.
The UAHT Coalition in Calcasieu Parish meetings will take place every other month on the last Thursday of each month at 1 p.m. The first meeting will be on Oct. 27, 2022. Those that are interested in becoming members can contact United Way SWLA or visit unitedwayswla.org/humantrafficking.