Calcasieu Parish’s new coalition wants to end the exploitation
Published Sunday 18 September 2022 6:37 am
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Louisiana ranks 26th nationwide for reported human trafficking cases. Southwest Louisiana is taking steps to counteract the effects of human trafficking with the formation of the United Against Human Trafficking Coalition in the Calcasieu community.
The coalition was launched on August 25, 2022. At the launch was human trafficking expert Eileen Dong.
Dong is a TEDx Speaker and Advisor, State of Texas Human Trafficking Survivor Leader Council, and Executive Director of Hope PYX Global. She considers human trafficking education her passion and was able to offer both general and local perspectives.
She explained that a key aspect of human trafficking is coercion. According to the US Department of Justice, human trafficking is “human trafficking or modern slavery” and “a crime in which a person is coerced or coerced to perform work or services or to engage in commercial sexual activity.”
Dong’s experience supports this definition, stating that “when someone is forced to do something they don’t want to do, that’s human trafficking.”
She identified 3 coercive tactics traffickers use to capture victims: Gorilla, Romeo, and Familial.
Gorilla dealers tend to be stereotypical abusers. These traffickers use brute force and intimidation to arrest and coerce victims.
“This is someone who’s really scary, usually a muscular man who looks like a criminal,” she said. “These types of traffickers are easier to watch out for.”
However, Dong explained that the elusive traffickers are those who rely on manipulation.
One category is Romeo traders. These traffickers coerce victims by manipulating them in romantic relationships. She said these traffickers would pretend to be romantic partners and isolate victims from their families and loved ones.
“They take control of you because they manipulate you into thinking nobody loves you,” she explained. “They will make you believe that no one else cares about you and that you are not worth it.” Then they tell you ‘but I love you’.”
Romeo traders will force you into physical and psychological isolation and convince you that they are the only person who loves you. Dong explained that they “fall in love” with a victim by showering them with gifts, giving them undivided attention, and never leaving their side.
“If it’s too good to be true, then you gotta watch out,” she said.
Similar tactics are used with the third form of coercion. Family trafficking is a form of human trafficking in which family members are the perpetrators.
This form of human trafficking is particularly dangerous as victims often do not know that they are or have been victims of human trafficking.
“I’ve personally interviewed people in their 50s and 60s who didn’t even know they were victims of human trafficking,” she explained. She went on to note that many victims of family trafficking simply believed they would help their families going through a financial crisis, unaware that guilt was compelling them to do so.
“Back then there wasn’t the kind of educational work that we’re doing now.”
personal hygiene the victims
Dong explained that much of the manipulation employed by human traffickers has been coined as “grooming.” Grooming is defined as the criminal activity of befriending an individual in order to manipulate or force them to engage in unsavory or illegal behavior.
One important red flag for civilians to look out for is abuse. The tactics, transgressions, and symptoms that result from human trafficking are sometimes indistinguishable from those that result from domestic violence.
Dong continued by explaining the intersections of abuse used to trade people with the wheel of power and steering wheel. “If you look at the power and steering wheel, you will see that it is very similar in domestic violence cases.
“Well, it’s like a cycle,” she said. “First they will be romantic towards you, then they will control you, then they will do various forms of abuse to you.” It is important for Dong to realize that physical abuse is not the only form of domestic violence. Victims can also experience economic, mental, and emotional abuse.
Ways civilians can help victims
One of the most important ways civilians can help victims of human trafficking is by educating themselves about the symptoms of surviving intense abuse.
Human trafficking survivors experience lifelong PSTD.
“If they have physical scars or pain, they will fade over time,” Dong explained. “But the emotional damage is never undone. It will never be the same again.”
“Understand that most of these victims will have PTSD for the rest of their lives.”
As a side effect of PTSD, many victims will experience real-time triggers during public interactions. In these situations, civilians have an opportunity to offer effective help.
“We have victims who have had a gun pointed to their heads,” Dong recalled. “So if they go to an event like a hunting party, they can freak out.”
“So I want our community to really take a step back and think about why that person is acting the way they do, rather than jumping into quick judgment.”
She and the other victims she has interviewed and interacted with are haunted by the processes they faced during human trafficking and are constantly afraid of their perpetrators.
Dong said that in the most severe cases, victims will live in fear of their abuser even after that person dies. For this reason, it is important to treat the victims with kindness and understanding. “I urge our community to really have empathy, and that empathy comes from education.”
Civilians who interact with or assist victims need to be aware of how comfortable victims feel about speaking out about their abuse. Dong explained that many victims don’t come forward out of fear or shame, or don’t feel comfortable telling their stories.
“Some people are ready to speak, but some people are not ready to speak. They all go through different stages of their journey.”
Much of this mindfulness depends on cultural competence. According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, these highest risk groups are women, adults and foreigners. This means that many victims are illegal immigrants. Displaced people carry their culture with them, which can create cultural dissonance.
Dong, herself a human trafficking survivor, has experienced a form of shame attributed to her Chinese culture. “My own family takes me as damaged goods because they think I’ve brought shame on my family,” she said. “In reality, the crime happened to me, I didn’t bring the crime to me.”
“This is a huge, huge pain in me.”
Shame culture is not exclusive to Chinese or even Asian culture, Dong said. She explained that during her case studies she found that almost all cultures have some form of shame culture.
“It’s not just the Chinese. It’s not even just Asians. It’s everyone.” She has worked with Chinese, Japanese, Arab, Hispanic, Black and White victims. “I learned that there are so many similarities in cultures.”
“I will not stop championing Asia and being the voice of this community, but I also want everyone else to understand that this happens to everyone…experience the cultural stigma that we must overcome.”
Civilians can help victims of different cultures by respecting their choices, disclosing trauma, exploring their cultures, and providing them with an empathetic environment.
“They have to flee this type of human trafficking, which means they have to isolate themselves from that family member and possibly the whole family,” she said. “So support them, show them the love environment they’ve never experienced before.”
bring about change
Fighting human trafficking takes more than civilian aid. Changing the law is the most efficient way to deter traffickers.
Dong explained that her home state of Texas has made great strides in recent years. Unfortunately, Texas’ efforts to tighten legal penalties for traffickers have shifted crime elsewhere.
According to Dong, there is a greater risk of human trafficking in Louisiana. With tightened legislation introduced in Texas, human traffickers have migrated to neighboring states.
“In our neighboring states … cases have gone up,” she said. “I know this is due to the extra work and policies of the Office of the Governor … Work is being done and we emphasize punishment of traffickers and buyers.”
“So, that pushes people away.”
Dong explained that human trafficking is a “$150 billion business.” “We have to think like human traffickers,” she explained. “If they are penalized directly or indirectly, it affects the financial part of their business.”
With the greater influx of human trafficking in Louisiana as a result, it is more important than ever to enact state law changes.
For Dong, the necessary change in the law goes deeper than punishing the perpetrators. Policy changes need to be made to better assist victims in finding housing.
“There are 315,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, but there are only a few 100 beds in the whole country,” she explained. “The deficit is a no-brainer… if they don’t have housing, do we expect them to sleep on the streets?”
She explained that it was imperative to develop shelter funding. These shelters, as well as medical care plans, need to be developed to meet the needs of different population groups. Many victims are unable to find shelter or care that is tailored to their life experiences.
“There is little to no accommodation for men and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” she explained. “We must offer the service regardless of their social, economic or educational background or their nationality.”
“It’s a human right. Nobody deserves to be treated like that. Everyone needs to be treated fairly and rescued.”
how to help
The best way for SWLA citizens to volunteer in the fight against human trafficking is to join the United Against Human Trafficking Coalition in the municipality of Calcasieu.
The meetings of the UAHT coalition in the municipality of Calcasieu take place every other month on the last Thursday of the month at 13:00. The first meeting will take place on October 27, 2022. Those interested in becoming a member can contact United Way SWLA or visit unitedwayswla.org/humantrafficking.