Monterey County has a problem with labor trafficking. Just a few weeks ago, we learned of a young dependent adult who had been forced into servitude in an apartment in Seaside, only to be discovered after she had been allegedly tortured to death by her trafficker. Then we learned of 10 agricultural workers living in a shipping container on a farm in Salinas. These terrified workers did not know where they were when law enforcement contacted them. Our community is just beginning to acknowledge that human trafficking not only happens here, but that it is a serious problem.

Human trafficking has a two-part definition. Fundamentally, human trafficking is when someone is compelled to work through force, fraud or coercion, whether in a restaurant, in agricultural fields or when an adult is forced to work in commercial sex. I emphasize “adult” because of the second part of the definition: Any child under 18 who is involved in commercial sex is a human trafficking survivor. When a child or teen is selling sex, the force, fraud and coercion is assumed.

Labor trafficking makes up 64 percent human trafficking happening globally, according to the International Labor Organization, while sex trafficking makes up 19 percent. Yet the bulk of the attention and funding aimed at ending human trafficking is steered toward sex trafficking. Although sex trafficking is serious and traumatic, labor trafficking survivors often experience life-threatening fear and serious injuries, both from the physical assaults they suffer and from the extreme overuse injuries from constantly working. Survivors of labor trafficking describe the same PTSD symptoms seen in sex trafficking survivors.

Labor trafficking has many warning signs, ranging from subtle to obvious. These include someone who may have little control over their money or identity paperwork, or who may not be able to speak for themselves. They may lack medical care, appear malnourished or excessively tired. They may describe being kept under high security.

Help is available to labor trafficking survivors. The Monterey County Rape Crisis Center, which has been serving survivors of sexual assault for over 30 years, has expanded its services to survivors of all forms of human trafficking. Meanwhile, the Coalition to End Human Trafficking in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties compiles a list of community resources.

But labor trafficking will continue in our community until we take steps to stop it. Identifying labor trafficking after the victim has been tortured to death is too late. We must all do our part in learning how to identify and respond. Together, we can end labor trafficking in Monterey County.

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