The U.S Advisory Council on Human Trafficking issued its first-ever report on Tuesday. This group was founded last year when President Obama appointed 11 people, all of whom are survivors of human trafficking themselves, to run the council.
This council is the first organization of its kind that allows survivors to directly recommend policy to government agencies. The first report offers 15 recommendations on five topics, ranging from seeking and allocating grant funding for survivor services to training law enforcement agents to recognize the signs of human trafficking.
We spoke to Ronny Marty, a victim of labor trafficking who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in 2009. Though today he's an activist against human trafficking and a member of the advisory council, back then, he just wanted the hotel job he'd been promised.
What did you find when you got to the U.S.?
Everything changed. It was nothing they promised me. I was supposed to work in a hotel, but they said they only had jobs in a DVD manufacturing company. I didn't have any other options, because I had borrowed so much money to pay the $4,000 I needed to come here.
[The five of us working together] were making so little money because of all the deductions. They were deducting for visa extensions, housing, transportation to move us from Kansas City to Huntsville. They put three of us in a one-bedroom apartment with three tiny beds and made us each pay the employer $300 a month. But the employer was only paying $400 a month for the apartment. They told us if we left, they would call immigration and we'd be sent back home. They told us we needed them to extend our work visas to stay legally. They told us they knew where our families lived and they'd go after them.
How did you escape that situation?
Once the employer stopped paying rent I had to talk to the landlord, because I was the only one of us who spoke English. She looked at my pay stubs and knew that something was wrong, [because of the deductions] so she got me to talk to the local newspaper. Then, that helped us [move and] find other jobs in Biloxi, Mississippi. In Biloxi, we talked to [federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents. They put us in touch with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] that gave us food, housing, everything we needed. Everything started going for the better.
My story is kind of odd compared to most of the cases because everything worked out pretty good at the end. I got the services that I needed at the time that I needed them. Most of the survivors I talk to now had a much worse time. No one would help them and they were very scared to ask for help. That's why we're so glad survivors are part of this report because we know about how bad this can be.
How is this report different because it was written by survivors?
Our involvement is essential in this movement to end human trafficking. We went through the tough time. We have the expertise, because of our time in the field, you could say. So with that role, we can help. The government, NGOs, any organization that wants to really fight human trafficking should be asking survivors. We know, for example, why people don't report their experiences with human trafficking, because they're scared of the police and their trafficker told them they're going after their families if they report.
What recommendations do you have for law enforcement?
We need agencies to understand what a survivor goes through to report their case, so the agencies can approach the survivors properly. It's how you can make a case successful or not. It's all about trust, because the trafficker has probably told them that the police are just going to take your information and kick you out.
At the point that I went to see [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], I didn't trust anyone but I had nothing to lose so I went. [ICE agent] Julie Gray was so kind and professional that I started believing in people again. In 2014, when I came to my first survivor forum, I was in shock when I heard all the survivors and what they went through with the police.
Most people associate human trafficking with women and girls, but clearly, men are affected as well. Does that get enough attention?
This is a problem I face when I go to do a training or talk about human trafficking. People talk mainly just about sex trafficking, because that's the idea that people have. But that's why it's important to bring the message and make them understand that the problem includes child slavery, forced labor, migrant labor. It can happen to anyone.
This report focuses mostly on how government agencies can address human trafficking. Can everyday people help?
Learn as much as you can about the signs. If they have the information, if they know what it is, if they know how to identify human trafficking, they can report it. If you don't know what you're looking for, it could be right next to you and you don't know it. When my landlord saw that something was going on with me and my pay stub, she was the first person who started helping me. That changed everything.
Now, your recommendations go to the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. What do you hope will come of this report?
This report is like a victory for us, just to get it out there. It's the first step and now we're going to be following up with the agencies to make sure that things are happening. We want to collaborate and follow up to help make these goals achievable before the 2017 report.