WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Defense Department officials have a zero-tolerance level for human trafficking and have stepped up awareness and education efforts to curb the crime overseas.
In an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Brian Chin — a program manager for the department’s effort to combat human trafficking, said DOD is broadening its training for those who work in contracting, acquisition and law enforcement, and that a yearly general course on how to recognize human trafficking has been mandatory for DOD civilians since 2005.
Chin works out of Qatar and oversees the program in Southwest Asia and the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
DOD defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud or coercion to recruit, harbor, transport or obtain a person for commercial sex or labor services, Chin explained.
Combating human trafficking is not a war waged alone within the DOD, he noted.
“The response to human trafficking requires a collaborative approach within all of DOD’s components and services,” Chin said, as well as working with agencies, such as the departments of State and Homeland Security to put a stop to the crimes of slavery and prostitution.
“A lot of our training is designed to sensitize our folks to realize that (a victim) is not just someone who’s serving our food, cleaning the barracks or picking up refuse around the bases that could be someone who’s there against their will and is being held in circumstances that fit (DOD’s) criteria for human slavery,” he said.
Victims of human trafficking can be difficult to identify, Chin said, because usually no physical indicators of coercion exist, and human traffickers are adept at influencing their victims to hide their victimization.
Commanders, other military leaders and all DOD components at all levels are “striving very hard to implement changes to federal laws and DOD-wide policies to push requirements for awareness programs, training for targeted audiences and reporting (cases) to the DOD (inspector general),” he said.
Chin called overseas human trafficking “widespread,” but acknowledged that the number of victims is difficult to quantify. Victims usually are lured from rural areas with promises of working in good-paying jobs, he said.
“A classic sign of human trafficking is indentured servitude, where the victims pay large fees in a very competitive arena to secure jobs,” he said, adding that the high pay they’re promised is just a lure.
The fees to secure jobs become loans, and victims find themselves working as indentured servants to work off what they owe, and they can’t return home because their passports are taken away, Chin said. Victims’ homes often are held as collateral for their employment, he added.
In many instances, victims are misled about where they’re going, he noted.
“One of the classic cases you see is beauticians and barbers (who are) told they’re going to a Gulf nation to work in a salon for a very good salary, and (when) they get off a plane, they’re actually in Afghanistan, working on a forward-operating base under completely different circumstances,” Chin said.
DOD’s efforts to train its personnel to recognize and report human trafficking are paying off, he said.
“Our awareness programs are having a tremendous effect on sensitizing all of our (personnel), and everybody understands what human trafficking is,” he said. “They’re starting to understand it’s not just a sex crime off our bases, especially in Afghanistan. … It’s also a labor crime.”