You Can Keep Teens Safe this Holiday Season

You Can Keep Teens Safe this Holiday Season

When you give to United Against Human Trafficking, you help kids like Nyoka stay safe.

It’s normal for teenagers to feel lonely and misunderstood – but for Nyoka, these feelings were so intense at times that they clouded her mind.

She would lay in her bed, staring at her phone, and think about the oppressive weight pressing on her chest. Her mother was working late again. If Nyoka yelled, would anybody hear? Would anybody care? 

Your gift helps UAHT reach teens like Nyoka, reminding them they are not alone.

Because so many children today are feeling isolated in the wake of such a lasting pandemic.

And that isolation can be dangerous.

Nyoka met her groomer on Facebook.

Kelly seemed like the coolest girl Nyoka could imagine. She was a few grades above Nyoka, wore cute clothes, and even drove her own car.

On top of it all, Kelly was choosing to talk with Nyoka! It made the lonely teen feel special.

Kelly and Nyoka chatted on Facebook Messenger every day. They complained about their parents – Nyoka’s mom was always at work and her father was incarcerated – and gossiped about what was happening at their schools.

Trafficking recruiters take advantage of desperation – from poverty, from trauma, and loneliness. With your help, teens like Nyoka can learn vital life skills to recognize and avoid these manipulative tactics.

Supporters like YOU ensure thousands of teens learn how to safely navigate social media and spot potential trafficking groomers.

Because if knowledge is power, then knowledge of human trafficking can save young lives.

Weeks passed before Nyoka began UAHT’s after-school program called Real Talk.

Though she had been cautious at first, Nyoka was quickly warming up to her fellow group members and UAHT’s facilitator. He really listened to the teens when they opened up about their emotions, and the calm kindness he exuded helped them feel safe.

During one session while they all shared some snacks, the facilitator explained what human trafficking is. All the kids shared wide-eyed looks when he showed them some pictures of convicted traffickers: there were men, women, adults, and even teens!

You give youth a chance at growth when you donate to UAHT.

$50 brings favorite snacks to vulnerable kids in residential facilities who participate in UAHT’s peer support group Real Talk. 

$100 helps connect an overlooked child who discloses victimization to critical support services. 

$500 enrolls a young adult survivor of human trafficking in comprehensive case management to start reclaiming their lives. 

Don’t wait! Donate today and ensure at-risk children know how to recognize and avoid traffickers – before they experience harm.

When Nyoka saw the picture of the cheerleader-turned-trafficker, she felt sick to her stomach.

Her mind flashed back to when she snuck away from home to go shopping with Kelly a few weeks ago. It was at the mall where Kelly gifted a silver bracelet to Nyoka and teased her until she drank a beer.

According to the class, giving gifts, manipulating emotions, and encouraging illegal acts were all red flags that she was being groomed for something harmful.

Since that trip, Kelly kept insisting that 16-year-old Nyoka come with her to an 18+ club where “cute older boys would be.” Nyoka made excuses, but Kelly remained persistent.

Could Kelly be a trafficker? The notion haunted Nyoka for days.

At the next Real Talk session, Nyoka volunteered to share her situation with the group to get their opinions.

Nyoka told the group everything.

She told them about Kelly, about the mall trip, and about the mounting pressure she felt from her new ‘friend.’ When Nyoka had finally finished unloading the burden of her story, she realized that tears were falling down her face.

Nyoka’s peers and facilitator listened openly and compassionately.

They did not judge her, and they did not make her feel stupid. The facilitator calmly tied the teen’s experience to what the group had been talking about last session: the early stages of trafficking recruitment.

With the gentle support of her group, Nyoka realized that she had been regularly posting on Facebook about feeling lonely when ‘Kelly’ first reached out. The teen’s stomach dropped. So THAT’S why Kelly took so much interest in her life.

Every day, teens like Nyoka face dilemmas we will never hear about

And if we do, it isn’t until it’s in the newspaper, or a tragic story whispered in the neighborhood. If she had finally given in to Kelly’s demands to go to that club, the young teen would have been coerced into servicing one of the older teen’s ‘friends.’ The situation would have escalated from there: new clubs, new ‘friends,’ and blackmail if Nyoka ever tried to refuse.

But thanks to the support UAHT receives from friends like YOU, Nyoka felt heard.

She got out her phone and blocked Kelly on Facebook with her new friends cheering at her side.

UAHT’s facilitator worked with Nyoka’s counselor to ensure he knew about the situation and even assisted the teen in speaking to her mother about it.

Now if Kelly ever tried to contact Nyoka again, Nyoka would have backup that even Kelly could not manipulate her way through.

When the Real Talk session ended, a few of her peers approached Nyoka to ask how she was doing. They complimented her for her brave vulnerability and asked if she wanted to meet up tomorrow after school at a nearby park to talk some more.

 Some of the clouds in Nyoka’s mind began to clear, revealing a hopeful blue sky.

Please, give to UAHT today to help facilitate new stories of hope for troubled teens, struggling survivors, and so many more who deserve somebody to walk alongside them.

UAHT can give children the space to bring their blue sky back thanks to such a generous community. YOU make it possible.

Does overturning Roe v. Wade affect human trafficking? 

Does overturning Roe v. Wade affect human trafficking? 

The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade isn’t theoretical. It can directly harm people who are rebuilding their lives after human trafficking and those who are still being exploited. As a result of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Texas is enacting a law, with very few exceptions, that bans abortion from the moment of fertilization. Here are 3 ways Texas’ trigger ban on abortion will affect human trafficking: 

1. Banning abortion increases vulnerabilities traffickers prey on 

Revoking access to safe, legal abortion services increases vulnerabilities that traffickers use to exploit victims.

Women living in poverty already experience the highest rates of unintended pregnancies and abortions due to the lack of sex education and access to contraception. Carrying and raising a child is expensive and time-consuming for a person living paycheck to paycheck – especially single parents.

Seeing the desperate need for housing, medical care, childcare, and other resources required during and after pregnancy, traffickers swoop in to take advantage of this desperation for their own profit. 

2. Traffickers can use pregnancy and childbirth to keep victims under their control. 

The trafficked individual might feel obligated to stay in a toxic situation to ensure she has the resources she needs or for the sake of the child ‘having two parents.’

If the trafficker is the biological father and the victim flees exploitation with the child, the survivor is legally tied to the person exploiting her.

Control is the weapon traffickers wield – and what better way to control a woman than to force her to carry, birth, and raise a child? 

3. The overturning of Roe v. Wade will affect us all – but none more so than women of color.

Restricting or removing access to legal abortion is a theft of personal autonomy that hurts the entire community. This is where racial discrimination, human trafficking, and women’s rights intersect.

As we know, people of color experience poverty at higher rates and Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women experience pregnancy related mortality at higher rates due to systemic racism. Women experience lower wages due to systemic sexism.

Therefore, poverty makes women of color more vulnerable to trafficking and unintended pregnancy.

This is not an exhaustive list of the ways criminalizing abortion will affect individuals and communities but highlights how it may harm trafficking survivors.

Banning legal abortion does not help women, families, children, or the community. It increases vulnerability and desperation. And it helps perpetuate human trafficking. 

We will continue to serve our clients as we always have – by connecting them with housing, basic care items, healthcare, mental health services, education, job training and opportunities, and more as they work to build the lives they dream.

We will continue to fight until all live free. 

Everything You Need To Know About Labor Trafficking

Everything You Need To Know About Labor Trafficking

When we hear the term “human trafficking,” most of us immediately think of sex trafficking. In reality, labor trafficking is more prevalent than sex trafficking both locally and globally. Here’s everything you need to know about labor trafficking:

The Numbers: Sex Trafficking vs. Labor Trafficking

The International Labor Organization (ILO) in partnership with Walk Free Foundation in 2017 estimated that 4.8 million people are victims of sex trafficking worldwide. 

But as large and devastating as that number is, sex trafficking only represents a small portion of the global human trafficking problem. 

There are 20.1 million people worldwide who are victims of labor trafficking.

16 million are exploited in the private sector – domestic work, agriculture, construction, etc. – while 4.1 million are exploited through state-imposed labor. 

That makes labor trafficking more than FOUR TIMES as common as sex trafficking globally. 

Labor trafficking is more than four times as common as sex trafficking

What is labor trafficking?

When somebody is compelled to work through force, fraud, or coercion, this is considered labor trafficking. 

Force

“After working in the factory all day, the overseers locked us in our sleeping quarters so we couldn’t leave during the night.” 

FRAUD

“Recruiters promised me certain wages when I agreed to the job, but then they took my visa and told me I had to work for much less than promised if I wanted it back.” 

COERCION

“My boss told me if I tried to quit, they would hurt my children.” 

Does labor trafficking happen in the United States?

In 2021, The National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 4,214 likely victims of labor trafficking – 3,583 victims of labor trafficking only and 631 victims of sex and labor trafficking. 

This number of reported victims, however, barely scratches the surface of the problem.

The University of Texas at Austin in 2016 estimated that more than 300,000 adults are trafficked for labor in Texas alone each year. 

Labor exploitation is a broad concept while labor violations and labor trafficking are legal terms.

What are labor exploitation and labor violations?

How do they relate to labor trafficking?

‘Labor trafficking’ and ‘labor violations’ are legal terms with legal definitions, while ‘labor exploitation’ is not.

According to the Laboratory of to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT), a labor violation is when “employers violate federal, state, or municipal laws related to worker treatment, workplace safety, or recordkeeping requirements.” Examples of labor violations include not paying overtime and/or paying below minimum wage. 

Like the adage “a square is always a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square,” labor violations are always labor exploitation… but labor exploitation does not always equal labor violations. 

Labor exploitation can also describe practices that are legal but considered morally/socially objectionable – such as paying workers low (but at least minimum) wages when workers assert their job deserves more compensation – while labor trafficking and labor violations are crimes by definition.

Remember: for an act to be considered labor trafficking, there must be elements of force, fraud, and/or coercion.

95% of reported labor trafficking victims were foreign nationals

Who is at risk of becoming trafficked for labor?

In the United States, immigrants and refugees are highly vulnerable to labor trafficking.

In 2020, The National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 2,765 likely labor trafficking victims by immigration status: either domestic individuals (US citizens and legal permanent residents) or foreign nationals.

95% of these labor trafficking victims were foreign nationals. 

Traffickers take advantage of new immigrants and refugees because they often do not know domestic labor laws. They also generally fear deportation, which gives a trafficker’s threats an even sharper edge and severely deters victims from speaking out. 

In what industries does human trafficking occur most?

According to a 2014 report by the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center in collaboration with Northeastern University, the US industries with the highest rates of labor trafficking victimization are agriculture, hospitality, domestic work, and construction. 

It is common for someone to experience sex and labor trafficking at the same time

How do sex and labor trafficking intersect? 

It is common for someone to experience sex and labor trafficking at the same time.

As mentioned previously, The National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 631 likely victims of sex and labor trafficking in 2020. 

For example, an immigrant nanny could be defrauded out of their visa to make them compliant to their employer’s demands, while also being forced into having sex with their trafficker’s friends. 

How can you fight labor trafficking?

If you suspect somebody is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 3737-888.

If we suspect a person is being exploited for labor, we need to ask 2 questions to determine if it is human trafficking:

  1. How did the person come to have this job? (Were they recruited, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, patronized, or solicited into the job?) 
  2. Was the person forced, defrauded, or coerced into taking or staying in the job? 

If you answer “yes” to both those questions, it’s human trafficking.

Read this blog to learn how to identify labor trafficking and other forms of human trafficking in your personal and professional life.

Request a free education workshop – virtual or in-person – to learn more! 

Shop Fair Trade

Lastly, it is virtually impossible to buy ONLY products that are ethically sourced and that can be guaranteed to have no labor trafficking occur during ANY part of the production process. This is a devastating fact of our modern world. This does not mean, however, that we should not try our best to consume responsibly when possible. 

We can research companies and see what, if any, responsible sourcing/supply chain responsibility protocols they use. If they do not, we can demand they do so. We can shop fair trade if/when we can afford it. While these are small steps, they can help us feel like we have just a little more control over how the goods we buy get to our carts.

Check out Fair Trade Certified’s website to find ethically sourced products.

This Isn’t Love: Teaching Youth How to Avoid Manipulation

This Isn’t Love: Teaching Youth How to Avoid Manipulation

i love ur smile. That’s all it took to capture Ava’s* attention: one 4-word comment on her selfie. 

She tapped the stranger’s name – Noah. His profile picture featured his deep umber eyes, but there was a brightness to them, a hint of laughter or mischief – she couldn’t tell which yet. 

She sent him a private message. Butterflies flapped their wings in her stomach when the 3 little dots popped up that meant he was typing. 

As they chatted, Ava learned she and Noah had a lot in common. They both were failing math and had detention for skipping school before. They both grew up in a struggling family in poor neighborhoods. They both had parents who were at work more than they were home. 
 
After a week of Facebook messaging, the two swapped phone numbers. 
A week later, they were texting and video chatting every day. Each time Ava heard the ping of a notification or the ring of a phone call, her heart fluttered in excitement. 
 
Ava cherished Noah’s attention and support. She confided in him: 
Ava started multiple fights at school – one of which left another student with a broken nose – and was sent to juvenile detention. She stayed there for months and heard little from her parents.  

Feeling isolated and alone, she wondered if they even wanted her anymore. These feelings lingered even after her release. She told Noah all about it.

Noah said her parents didn’t care about what happened to her, but that Ava shouldn’t worry too much; soon she’d be 18, and she could leave them behind forever – like he did with his parents. 

“I’ll take you to the most expensive restaurant in the city that day,” Noah promised. “You can have whatever you want.”  

Sometimes people you trust use your vulnerability to exploit you.
Lakeith

Age 15, Real Talk Participant

Back then, Ava didn’t know Noah was grooming her to be trafficked.

She didn’t know that he targeted her for exploitation because the caption on her selfie read: “this is what it looks like to get out of juvie!” She didn’t know that waves of compliments aren’t love.

She didn’t know that Noah was intentionally sowing seeds of doubt about her parents. She didn’t know that isolating isn’t love. 

Ava didn’t know the promise of gifts would make her feel like she owed him something in return. Ava didn’t know that expensive presents aren’t love. 

Donate today to help teens like Ava spot the early warning signs of manipulation. 

Like all of us, kids crave love and belonging – things groomers pretend to offer.

Youth who feel isolated, who are involved in the juvenile justice system, who long for connection, are highly vulnerable to manipulation. Once traffickers build enough trust, they use force, fraud, and/or coercion to compel victims into exploitation. 

But because of people like YOU supporting UAHT’s prevention work, youth like Ava can realize the truth before it is too late. 

After being released from detention, Ava needed to go to secondary school: an alternative, temporary learning academy that juvenile offenders must attend before returning to regular school. 

 At Secondary School, Ava attended Real Talk: UAHT’s support group for at-risk youths.

Ava trusted very few people, especially adults. But UAHT’s facilitator, Taylor, seemed cool enough. 

He brought snacks Ava hadn’t gotten to eat since before she was in detention. He listened to the teens when they talked about their difficult experiences and didn’t judge them. 

UAHT facilitates Real Talk where vulnerable youth are often overlooked: secondary schools, juvenile detention centers, homeless youth shelters, afterschool programs, and much more.

In fact, some of Ava’s classmates recognized Taylor from when they were still in detention! What’s more, they liked the support group so much that they chose to retake it. 

Your group is the only one we really pay attention to! I actually remember the stuff you tell us.
Aracely

Age 14, Real Talk Participant

Ava learned a lot during the 10 sessions of Real Talk.

She learned how to use deep breathing to calm anxiety, how what she ate could affect her mood, and even some fun yoga poses! 

She started bonding with her fellow classmates over their shared experiences and the vulnerability they showed during the group. Her math grade started to improve, too! 

After 8 sessions, Ava finally built up the courage to tell her parents about how lonely she felt, and they planned to spend more time together. 

But the most important lesson Ava learned was how to spot manipulation. 

Taylor told the group that traffickers often find their targets on social media. They look for kids who post about being lonely, about troubles at home or in school. 

When Ava heard that, the classroom went cold. Could Noah be manipulating her? 

She didn’t want to believe it. No. It couldn’t be true. Noah was great! He talked to Ava every day and he told her she was pretty, that she deserved the best, that he wished he could take her away from all her troubles. 

As the weeks went on, Ava looked forward to each new Real Talk session. 

The more she learned about harmful versus healthy relationships, the more her doubts about Noah settled like a weight in her stomach. 

Donate today to help youth like Ava learn how to spot manipulation – BEFORE they are harmed!  

The trip to the mall was the final straw. 

Noah invited Ava to meet up with him. Knowing she wasn’t allowed to go out alone, Ava told him she couldn’t. He asked her every day … and every day, Ava tried to tell him no. She thought his persistence meant he liked her so much, he couldn’t wait to meet in person. 

Ava didn’t know that pressure isn’t love. 

Eventually, Ava’s parents were so impressed with her progress at secondary school that when she caved to Noah’s request and asked to go to the mall with “a group of friends from school,” they said yes. 
 
But instead of feeling pure happiness, Ava felt uneasy; after all, she was lying to her parents to go see Noah. Something felt … off. 
 
Yet Noah had been nothing but nice to her. Surely, she at least owed it to him to hang out? After all, he was there for her during some of her hardest days. Plus, Ava had never gone on a shopping spree before! 
 
One date couldn’t hurtright? 
 
Ava climbed into the metro bus by herself and headed to the mall to meet Noah in person for the first time. 

Give a gift today and empower youth like Ava to build the self-confidence and courage to reject manipulative dates.

It didn’t take long for Ava to realize Noah wasn’t what she thought he’d be.

For one, he belittled Ava’s happiness with Real Talk. As he paid for her new jacket, Noah told Ava the group was nothing but touchy-feely crap – that the facilitator was only in it for his paycheck. Ava’s shoulders sank and her face dropped … but she didn’t reply. 

It felt like whiplash to hear Noah abruptly switch from doting to critical. 

They were walking into Forever21 when Noah wouldn’t stop trash-talking Ava’s parents. He insisted their rules were ridiculous and unfair.

Ava’s stomach twisted, but she finally found her voice: “Don’t talk about them like that.” She confessed about her recent conversation with her parents, how they were working to rebuild their relationship. 

Noah went silent. Silent and angry. He shot a glare at her, and his eyes darkened. The light she saw before vanished. Ava clutched her shopping bags in a desperate grip. This wasn’t okay. Noah was a manipulator, just like she learned in Real Talk. 

Desperately wanting to leave, Ava saw a window when Noah went to the restroom. She dropped her bags and ran out of the mall. 

Please, be the reason youth like Ava can realize the truth before it’s too late! 

The next day at school, Ava told her teacher she wanted to speak with Taylor. 

As soon as she heard his voice over the phone, the dam broke. Ava told him everything. Taylor listened without interrupting. After Ava finished her harrowing story, Taylor told the young woman how proud he was of her courage. He would make sure she was safe. 

Taylor quickly relayed Ava’s situation to UAHT’s partners in local law enforcement and connected Ava to the juvenile probation department’s mental health program. Ava blocked Noah’s number. 

For the first time in a very long time, Ava felt seen. She felt heard. And, most of all, she felt hope. Things were going to get better. She was going to get better. 

I will try to dig myself out of my deep and dark cave, and this group helped me a lot.
Mai

Age 17, Real Talk Participant

Without emotional support, healthy life skills, and the knowledge to recognize red flags, youths can fall too deep into manipulation to escape. They will continue being targeted by people like Noah. That’s why UAHT’s prevention work is vital to the fight against human trafficking. 

With YOUR help, UAHT can walk alongside more young people like Ava while they navigate an uncertain world. You can ensure all youth get the attention and compassion they deserve, no matter their situation.

Please, donate to UAHT today to bring hope to vulnerable kids! 

*Ava’s story is inspired by a compilation of our Real Talk participants’ experiences.

6 Ways We Fight For Freedom in Houston

6 Ways We Fight For Freedom in Houston

This post was featured in Southwest Airline’s blog!

Jasmin

‘Jasmin’ walked up to our table during one of our city outreach events. Intrigued, she cautiously inquired about our organization, United Against Human Trafficking (UAHT). After discovering a bit about us, she shared her own experiences: she had been trafficked.


Jasmin‘s exploitation occurred on and off for years. Using force, fraud, and coercion, her trafficker compelled Jasmin to work without pay as a housecleaner and have sex with strangers for his own profit.

No cages or chains like in the movies – the threat of violence, of withheld food or shelter were more than enough to keep Jasmin trapped.

Still, Jasmin tried to leave. But each time she managed to escape, the man reappeared in her life to derail itThe trauma she experienced, coupled with lack of  support, led a hopeless to Jasmin to becoming dependent on drugs an alcohol to cope.

UAHT’s Outreach team acted quickly. They helped Jasmin navigate the intake process at a local clinic and arranged for transportation – all during a standard tabling event. Now safe, Jasmin is on a journey to recovery from both exploitation and addiction.

And it all started because she felt safe enough with our team to share her story. 

 

United Against Human Trafficking Outreach Event in Houston Community

UAHT’s Outreach Team Acted Quickly

Since 2005, we have assisted and empowered human trafficking victims, survivors, and at-risk persons like JasminOur vision is a world without the trauma Jasmin experienced, with zero tolerance for the buying and selling of human life. We fight so that all may live free. 

UAHT began as a small volunteer coalition in Houston that formed in response to the area’s dire trafficking problem: major highways, thriving trade, proximity to a major border, and a booming sex industry all contribute to the Greater Houston Area’s hotbed of human trafficking.

Today, UAHT is a leader in the Greater Houston Area’s anti-trafficking movement, unifying organizations across the region to develop a strategic approach to ending exploitation for the purposes of sex AND labor.

We collaborate extensively with the Houston Mayor’s Officethe Houston Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and other governmental and nongovernmental entities to ensure trafficked persons are treated with the respect and autonomy they deserve.

Our goal at UAHT is to find and fill service gaps in our region. Trafficking victims are all too often hidden in plain sight due to stigma, ignorance, and fear. They often belong to marginalized groups such as the homeless, immigrants/refugees, LGBTQ+, the substance-dependent, the mentally ill, and survivors of domestic/sexual violence, who already face enormous struggles.

We go out into the community to identify these forgotten victims, help in any way we can, and equip them with the tools they need to break free when they’re ready. 

Trafficking victims are often hidden in plain sight due to stigma, ignorance, and fear

How We Fight for Freedom

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