Human trafficking summit: Speaker calls for disrupting business of labor abuse

Charles Crane/MDN Ryann Jorban with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office Labor Justice Unit addresses attendees during her keynote presentation on labor trafficking at the first day of the Bakken Human Trafficking Summit held at Minot State University’s Ann Nicole Nelson Hall on Tuesday.

The keynote speaker at the first day of the Bakken Human Trafficking Summit Tuesday in Minot shone a light on the tactics used by traffickers to control and exploit victims for labor.

“This is a countrywide aspect. People don’t get into trafficking because that was their dream when they were five. There is a lot of money in trafficking. If it is a business, we can attack it as a business,” said Ryann Jorban, the director in charge at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office Labor Justice Unit and Consumer Protection Division.

Jorban highlighted the 2014 Trillium Egg Farm case to illustrate the dynamic often employed by traffickers. Eight Guatemalan teenagers were forced into labor for little pay under threats of violence against them and their families. Jordan shared data from North Dakota that showed 153 child labor cases were recorded in Bismarck, and 59 in Minot.

Jorban said labor trafficking victims are from South or Central America, but that there has been a 5,000% surge in the number of border crossings by Chinese nationals in the last three years. These victims are typically vulnerable and are targeted by recruiters or employment agencies who arrange their transportation into the United States.

Once they cross the border, the victims are then moved to various locations and forced to live in squalid conditions before they are brought to a job site. Jorban said the bulk of the victims’ limited payment for their work is captured by the trafficking organizations to pay off the debt they’ve incurred.

“Labor exploitation, wage theft, labor trafficking is the largest criminal fraud in the world. In California alone, $3 billion is lost to wages from wage theft. You’ve probably been in contact with people labor trafficked weekly and people being labor exploited daily. If you are a minimum wage earner, about 89 percent of people making minimum wage have been victims of wage theft,” Jorban said. “This is a very efficient system. This is a business. They are doing this because it makes money. What we’re looking at here is enslavement.”

Jorban discussed a number of red flags for law enforcement and members of the public to look for to identify labor trafficking victims, who often aren’t aware they are being victimized and are not incentivized to seek help.

In addition to threats of violence, victims are often motivated to remain in their circumstances to provide for their families and are made to feel as if they don’t have any other option. Jorban stressed the best approach for dismantling human trafficking networks is in providing strong social services and support to victims in lieu of deportation as they are then more likely to seek help.

“You need to fulfill the victim’s needs and reassure them they are being helped,” Jorban said.

Ann Nicole Nelson Hall at Minot State University is host for the fourth annual summit, providing law enforcement, attorneys, counselors, victim advocates, service providers and members of the public with training and awareness.

The summit is organized by The 31:8 Project, a statewide organization launched in 2015, which seeks to provide education on human trafficking, sexual exploitation and pornography.

Stacy Schaffer, 31:8 Project founder and executive director, said the summit is a major part of the project’s education component.

“What does it look like? How does it impact our community and what do we do about it?” Schaffer said. “The big piece of that in prevention is being able to recognize the red flags associated with human trafficking, and some of the myths associated with it as well. People want to believe that doesn’t happen here. It might not be that random stranger. It might be someone you know.”

One myth identified by Schaffer was that human trafficking involved kidnapping and white vans, when in reality it typically involves the victim’s own family members. Schaffer felt that even though the organization has been seeing more kids coming for help in the years since it was launched, it is a sign more people are being educated and taking action.

“With more people talking about it, I think you’re going to see more identification of crimes like this. Our laws are slowly starting to catch up. Prior to 2015 there was very little language that was tailored toward human trafficking. Every year through the legislative session, we get better at looking at this and understanding where our laws need to grow in regards to the crime,” Schaffer said. “From the first conference we’ve had to today, we’ve tripled the size in four years. That tells me people really want to learn.”

The summit concludes today.


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