(COLORADO SPRINGS) — It’s a crime that knows no bounds. “It’s a problem nationally, I don’t think Colorado is an outlier necessarily,” said Nathan Schilling, Resident Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations.
And it can happen anywhere, in any community, and to just about anyone. “They’re into exploiting people and they don’t have any concern for human life,” said Schilling.
“Human trafficking victims can be male, female, any gender, they can be any age and be from any socioeconomic background, any country of origin.”
It’s a lucrative business with no shortage of demand or supply and it preys on vulnerable people.
“Just the ability to exploit them puts them in a position where the opportunity would present itself,” said Schilling. “It could be mental health; it could be a language barrier where they show up into our country and they don’t have means of communicating on behalf of themselves. It could be that they need employment.”
Most people are aware of the issue of sex trafficking, but according to the Department of Homeland Security, labor trafficking is just as big of a problem.
“That’s extremely widespread,” said Schilling. “I think the Center for Countering Human Trafficking has identified 25 different industries that are where it’s prevalent.”
Some of those include construction, agriculture, and the hospitality industry. Schilling said labor traffickers exert control over their victims, using fraud, force, or coercion.
“It could be that you bring them in, and you pay them under the minimum wage, you’re charging them for lodging, you bring them in under false pretenses thinking that they’re going to have a different job than what you actually give them,” said Schilling. “And you, through fraud, force, or coercion, force them to maintain that role within that industry or with that employer.”
Schilling said often the victim is afraid to come forward or doesn’t know who to turn to for help.
“Maybe at times they’re afraid of law enforcement, thinking that law enforcement will either deport them or that they will somehow get in trouble, and that’s not the case,” said Schilling. “We’re there to provide support services for that victim. Our goal is to conduct an investigation and to criminalize, identify and prosecute, the traffickers. So, the victim is treated as a victim, whether they’re a non-U.S. citizen or a U.S. citizen.”
According to experts like Schilling, the best way to stop human trafficking is to report it and a list of signs to look out for can be found on humantraffickinghotline.org
“We investigate the tips and leads that we receive and then we also proactively attempt to target traffickers and then identify victims,” said Schilling.
Last year the Department of Homeland Security arrested around 3,600 suspected human traffickers, but there are likely many more that haven’t been reported.
Tips can be reported online or through the National Hotline Trafficking number at 1-888-373-7888.