After extensive (seven years) research on all forms of human trafficking across the globe, my co-author Rita J. Simon and I are excited to share our findings.
The story of our research journey began in New Orleans where I moved in February 2006, not long after Hurricane Katrina. Just like any place in any country that experiences a natural disaster, the infrastructure was disrupted, the population was in flux and law enforcement personnel were overextended. In order to rebuild the city there was a sudden demand for low-wage labor, which created an ideal scenario for labor exploitation and human trafficking. This resulted in contractors who brought in and exploited workers unnoticed.
This is actually where the latter part of the book title (Hidden in Plain Sight) came from: the workers were exploited out in the open, but they were hidden in plain sight because no one was paying attention to the exploitation. I first began to research human trafficking cases in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region and after seeing the common patterns I added the entire U.S. and 23 other nations.
I discovered that no matter what nation I explored or what form of trafficking took place, human trafficking and the way it is performed is shockingly similar. False jobs, exorbitant fees for recruitment, visas, travel, housing, food and even the use of on-the-job tools are all ways to put the victim in a position of dependence and eventual servitude. Additional fees — or fines — are tacked on for “poor behavior” or not meeting certain work quotas. This formula is incredibly successful — as the victims’ debt rises exponentially, the victims end up owing more than they earn.
Despite the similarities between nations there are also unique differences. We examine specific cultural, economic, environmental and geopolitical factors that contribute to each nation’s trafficking issues. We also highlights common phenomena that governments and international anti-traffickers should consider in their fight against this illicit trade.
My hope in writing the book is to attract a broad audience. It is important that society doesn’t compartmentalize human trafficking as only relevant to certain domains and industries. It is essential that human trafficking be understood by those in a variety of industries: storeowners, grade school educators, those in the medical community and green builders. The list goes on and on. Awareness is the key to positive change and my hope is that the book helps to spread awareness to a large and varied audience that can spark discussion, training, and a demand for changes within a multitude of industries.
— Stephanie Hepburn