Imagine that you are struggling to feed your family and care for your loved ones. A trusted individual, perhaps a family member, authority figure or good friend, promises you a new life in a foreign country – a stable income, freedom to pursue new opportunities and safety for you and your children.
You arrive in this new country only to find yourself forced to work 12 to 18 hours days, seven days a week, with little to no pay. You don’t speak the language and are not allowed to go outdoors or speak to strangers.
How do you ask for help?
Portland Police Officer Natasha Haunsperger, an advocate for victims of foreign-born human trafficking, is working on a solution - a way for victims to ask for help in their own, safe and silent way.
Officer Haunsperger, with the help of the Portland Police Bureau and Portland State University advertising students with FIR Northwest have designed a pathway to safety for trafficking victims and a newfound means of identifying victims– the awareness campaign: Red Means Help.
Because many victims of trafficking are either unable to speak English or isolated and not allowed to speak to others, Red Means Help offers a means of non-verbal communication between victims and officers or first responders. A victim simply shows a red object to a police officer, healthcare worker, fire and rescue personnel or other official. These trained officials recognize that the color red means this person is a potential trafficking victim and needs help.
Oregon Serves as Major Hub for Global Human Trafficking
According to the International Labor Organization, around 20 million persons worldwide are victims of some form of slavery or involuntary servitude. Many victims are vulnerable, struggling with poverty due to natural disasters, civil war and other circumstances out of their control. Traffickers target these individuals, mostly women and children, and spend months earning their trust.
Portland, Oregon is a major destination point for foreign-born victims of trafficking. Traffickers bring the victims to the Pacific Northwest with false promises of stable employment and good pay – often in the service industry, manual labor or domestic caretaker and nanny positions.
Many victims live and work among us. Yet identifying these victims is a challenge. Foreign-born victims often do not speak English. Their traffickers tell them they have no rights and will be arrested if they attempt to communicate with any outsider. Red Means Help is making victim identification easier for social service providers, law enforcement and healthcare workers who encounter victims daily.
Multilingual Notices and Silent Communication Tools Give Trafficking Victims Hope
Officer Haunsperger’s organization, Red Means Help, breaks through the communication barriers by strategically placing posters with multilingual instructions where victims often travel, such as transit stations. The Red Means Help campaign lets these individuals know that they do indeed have rights and that Portland police officers, fire and rescue, social workers and others want to help. Most importantly, it offers them a nonverbal tool to ask for help.
The message of Red Means Help: “If someone forces you to work by using threatened or actual violence, you are a victim. Show red to a police officer for help.” Showing an official a red object will prompt the officer to investigate.
The goal of Red Means Help is to educate first responders, raise public awareness and let victims know, in their own language, that there is a way to reach out for help. Officers, social service providers and health care workers are trained to look for these red objects as a symbol that the individual needs their help.
How can you help?
Members of Oregon FBICAA, no matter what their profession, can help identify victims of human trafficking by keeping an eye open for potential cases. First, view the informative training video Officer Haunsperger and the Portland Police Bureau produced as part of the campaign. The video is designed to educate law enforcement officers, prosecutors, immigration attorneys, health care professionals and social service providers about the problem of foreign-born human trafficking in the Pacific Northwest and the challenges we face with identifying victims and finding resources for the ongoing rescue, safety and rehabilitation of these victims.
In addition, be aware of your surroundings. Take note when a service person won’t make eye contact or doesn’t speak English. Is the same waitress or hotel maid from this morning still working this evening? Before assuming these individuals are working a rare double shift, consider their behavior and whether they may need your help.
Recognize the potential for a human trafficking situation to exist and connect possible victims with your local resources and partner agencies that have assets in place to facilitate the path to rescue, recovery and the rebuilding of a new life. We must work together to build an effective network that can produce victim identifications and interventions by the criminal justice system and social service providers.
To learn more about the Red Means Help campaign and how you can contribute, visit www.redmeanshelp.org.
To download a multilingual poster to place in your community or workplace, visit www.portlandoregon.gov/police/73405.
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