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  • Kim Westfall, Founder

How Trafficking Happens: Debt Bondage

If we want to stop trafficking before it ever happens, it’s critical that we know the signs of trafficking and how trafficking happens. Today, we want to tell you about one of the ways trafficking happens, debt bondage. Alongside the Lover-boy method, Debt Bondage is one of the most common schemes traffickers use to enslave people.

Debt bondage is a specific tactic traffickers use to trap people and then exploit them for sex or labor. It starts when a trafficker offers their prospective victim a job. Usually, a trafficker will target someone who is economically vulnerable, like a single mother or a person living in poverty. Of course, this is not always the case, sometimes traffickers target others who they think will make them more money.

Whomever they approach, they usually spend some time getting to know the victim and gaining their trust. Then, they’ll offer them the job, usually away from the victim’s home town. On the way to the job, the trafficker will pay for some costs like transportation, lodging, or a phone.

When they arrive at the city where the “job” supposedly is, the trafficker will say that the victim needs to pay them back for all of the “debt” they incurred on the journey. The trafficker will say things like, “I paid for your transportation, lodging, your phone -- you owe me for all of those things.”

Of course, at this point the victim is far away from home, friends, and resources. She has no way to pay the trafficker back. Often times she's in a place where she doesn't speak the local language. That’s when the trafficker will say that the only way to pay off the debt is to sell her. The trafficker will exploit her for sex or labor, taking all of the money from her abuse to pay off the “debt.” To enslave her even deeper, the trafficker will continue to “charge” her for food and wherever she’s staying, adding to the debt. Even worse, some traffickers will say the debt is accruing interest, too. Together, these schemes mean that the victim will never be able to repay the debt. She is now a slave.

We have rescued survivors from all across Europe who were enslaved through debt bondage. Right now, members of our Freedom Highway are supporting survivors in a specific Western European country. This country has a beautiful coastline that attracts many tourists during the summer. Our team rescued Romanian women who were brought to the coastline under the idea that they would have jobs in the legitimate tourism and hospitality industry. Instead, they were forced into sex trafficking.

Open the door: Ending Debt Bondage Once and for All

Uncaged is working to prevent traffickers from using debt bondage in two key ways.

First, we are EDUCATING women and girls about the schemes traffickers use to target them. This education includes debt bondage, encouraging women and girls to get someone they trust to review any labor offers and to avoid traveling out of their community with someone offering them a job if they can. You can help spread this education far and wide by signing our SPEAK UP petition asking the Romanian government to use our curriculum in elementary schools.

Second, Uncaged knows that people are a lot less vulnerable to debt bondage if they already have a sustainable way to live. We’re collaborating with local schools to hold classes for communities in Romania. This is one of the reasons we’re partnering with local universities to get survivors certificates in certain professions. It’s why we make sure every survivor leaves our program with a marketable skill and job she can use to sustain herself and her family. You can drive this work forward by clicking here.

Trafficking is run by organized crime. But now the good guys are getting organized, too. We are here to unlock transformation for every survivor we can find. We are opening the door to a world without slavery by changing laws and educating the people so they can rise up and protect themselves.

Let’s keep fighting to end trafficking once and for all. We hold the keys to freedom!

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