Local attorney Jonathan Bartell, who specializes in immigration law, recently held a group at the Orange library captivated as he told stories of human trafficking victims.
His comments were sponsored by National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Cleveland Section.
One of the stories Bartell related was about Svetlana, a young Russian woman. She was promised a well-paying job in Istanbul, Turkey, by two men. Once she arrived, her passport and money were taken away, and she was locked up and forced into prostitution. Desperate to escape, she jumped out of a window when she was with a customer and fell six stories.
Instead of taking her to the hospital, the customer called the traffickers. Untreated, she ultimately died.
Svetlana’s story shows just a small part of human trafficking, a “real epidemic flourishing throughout the world,” Bartell noted.
Recently, the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked each year. With the number of victims who are too scared to come forward, accurate numbers may be over a million, Bartell said.
According to the FBI, human trafficking accounts for $9.5 billion in annual revenue.
Human trafficking, which is also closely connected with crimes like money laundering, drug trafficking and document forgery, “violates the universal human right to life,” Bartell said. “Trafficking of children violates the inherent right of a child to grow up in a protected environment and the right to be free of all forms of abuse and exploitation.”
Victims of the crime suffer a multitude of physical, sexual and psychological ailments. “Recovery from the trauma, if it ever happens, can take a lifetime,” Bartell continued. Many victims find themselves stigmatized or ostracized when they return to their community. They can suffer from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, anxiety, insomnia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Human trafficking also has a negative impact on labor markets, he added. It can lead to depressed wages, fewer individuals left to care for an increasing number of elderly persons, and an undereducated generation.
Knowledge about trafficking must be continually improved, and anti-trafficking organizations must be strengthened in order to put a stop to the crime, Bartell said. Government should play a large role in anti-trafficking methods by training officials in anti-trafficking techniques. Drawing public attention to the problem is also a helpful method because it enables the government to enlist public support.
The U.S. has ranked countries in their trafficking practices and in the protection of trafficking victims in their country. Tier Two, where the U.S. is ranked, is for countries that have “made significant strides in battling human trafficking,” Bartell said. Stronger legislation has also increased America’s ability to fight and combat human trafficking.
The U.S. offers victims of trafficking a “T-Visa,” which allows them to stay in the country for three years to facilitate prosecution of their traffickers. After that time, they are able to apply for permanent residency. The U.S. is virtually the only government in the world that allows this benefit to victims, Bartell explained.
Tier Two Watch List and Tier Three are for countries that have “not correctly implemented laws that punish traffickers, nor have they created any sort of manner to allow for the psychological care and well-being of those victims.”
Israel is on the Tier Two Watch List along with South Africa, Cambodia and Taiwan.
Trafficking is a “worldwide epidemic,” Bartell notes, but it also hits close to home. Virtually every city has victims of trafficking or exploited individuals living or working there.
A group such as NCJW can be helpful in the fight against trafficking by keeping in contact with local government officials, he says. Non-governmental organizations are victims’ best sources of assistance, the attorney said, and the best way for a group to be helpful is to get in contact with those groups.