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Slavery could be happening at your work, and you would never know

(Marten Bjork on Unsplash)

The hotel worker who services the room you stay in could be a victim of human trafficking, and neither you or the hotel would ever know.

That’s exactly what happened in King County recently, when hotel workers began to suspect one of their colleagues was a victim.

“A hotel worker was being forced into work by her uncle to clean hotels here in King County,” said Mar Brettmann, executive director of Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking. “One of her colleagues noticed she had signs of abuse and trauma. They asked her, ‘Hey can I help you? Is there something you need?’ That’s when the woman told her what was happening to her; that her paycheck was being taken and she was being abused by her uncle at home. She was able to get out and get help.”

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“In this case it was an uncle who brought the person over (from another country),” Brettmann continued. “He got some paperwork that said she was over 18, and went and helped her get a job at the hotel … And the hotel doesn’t know the difference until they start to see the signs of abuse or trauma. Like someone unable to stay awake or not eating or getting enough food. Those sorts of things would demonstrate that something is going on. That’s the time when you want employees to ask questions like if they want help.”

Hotel workers can also be the ones who see signs of sex trafficking of young people, Brettmann also points out. She recommends people call the National Human Trafficking Hotline if they suspect someone is a victim of trafficking. It it’s an active emergency, always call 911.

Human trafficking industry

One one hand, there are traffickers who force people into labor, such as the hotel worker. Brettmann says this often happens with entry-level jobs across Washington. She notes that overseas, there are a lot of genuine labor brokers. That can make it difficult to spot a nefarious trafficker.

“So often people are tricked into coming,” Brettmann said. “They get promised a job in the US, all kinds of jobs. They want to provide for their families, so they come over. Once they get here, they find they cannot leave their trafficker. They have been defrauded. They are being forced into a work situation.”

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On another hand, there is also a system of trafficking in the US with people who are tricked into the sex trade.

Awareness for such issues is what Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking aims for. It does trainings and outreach so businesses can be on the front lines of the issue. Brettmann works with companies like Amazon and Microsoft to help employees see the signs of trafficking.

King County law enforcement once focused on the traffickers, Brettmann noted. But when one was arrested, another would pop up.

“Because it’s such a lucrative business,” Brettmann said. “So the county started focusing increasingly on the buyers … the people driving demand for this activity … without them there would be no trafficking victims.”

Brettman’s organization started looking into who these buyers were.

“We found that they are predominately men who work at a lot of the companies in our area … men from reputable companies who are using company time.”

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