JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Human trafficking is a crime using an underground network of safe houses and grid of interstates widely under reported, according to Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. McDaniel is one is many public officials who would like to see Arkansas' law strengthened in regards to human trafficking.
Thursday, the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Catholic Charities Immigration Services held a training session for faith leaders and community organizers. According to Reagan Stanford, human trafficking does not end at U.S. borders.
"The victims of human trafficking are everyone. I work with catholic charities immigration services, so we work with international victims that have been brought in, but there are also domestic victims that are us citizens adults and minors that are being trafficked," said Stanford. "There's a lot of reluctance to admit that something like this happens or that slavery is still alive and thriving in the United States, and especially in Arkansas."
Stanford said there is no real number to back up claims of the problem. She said in the last year, her agency has worked at least five confirmed human trafficking cases; however, some cases are treated as other crimes.
"A lot of times people are coming into contact people that maybe victims of human trafficking and are identifying it as something else, because this really isn't anything we are thinking about right now," said Stanford. "Trafficking is the exploitation of a person for profit. And by the federal definition and by the current Arkansas definition, it requires the use of forced fraud of coercion."
Vicki Crego, Executive Director of the Women's Crisis Center of Jonesboro, told Region 8 News she hoped to learn from Thursday's meeting. She said while it may not be a widely reported problem, she believes it's one in need of attention.
"A lot of people have heard of human trafficking, but they don't associate it with our local community or even in our state," said Crego. "We are hoping to learn as an organization, as a women's shelter and program, is that how we can better identify victims of human trafficking, what kinds of things that we can do to raise awareness in our community and to intervene in these cases."
"That's what is really concerning to me and to others in the Jonesboro community, we are very worried about our young girls and children," said Crego.
According to the Polaris Project, there are an estimated 21-27 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. Stanford said while sex trafficking is most noticeable, labor trafficking is also a problem.
"Coercion is the most powerful thing that we see. The fact that they know where their family lives and can threaten their family, things like that really bind people, and in a lot of these situations, especially with international victims, a lot of times they're coming here on their own accord, thinking they're getting a legitimate job," said Stanford. "These are dangerous people that do know where their children and family are and they know that they can get to them before they can."
Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro has also started to raise awareness of human trafficking. The church will welcome Dr. Kay Bennett Sunday, May 6th to discuss more about the topic.
"There's been a rise in the number of smuggling cases turning into trafficking cases, where they know they're committing that crime of agreeing to be smuggled into the country, but then once they get here, they hold them and say, well now you owe me $25,000 more and I'm not going to let you go and you can work it off being a prostitute," said Stanford. "When you're dealing with people who are willing to sell humans, imagine all the other things they're doing."