Over 350 human trafficking victims within the Caribbean and Latin American regions saw rescue after the Canadian government funded Operation Libertad, an exercise designed to target trafficking. The project was active in Aruba and Curacao, UK’s Turks and Caicos islands, Brazil, and Venezuela.
The coordinated raids to combat human trafficking worked in tandem with over 500 local police officers from those specified regions in order to locate and shut down the illegal activities.
“You have people who are scared, whose trust is broken, who might not have clean underwear, or even know where they are,” said Denise Brennan, an anthropology professor at Georgetown. “And strangers are saying, maybe not in their own language: ‘Don’t worry about it. Trust me.’ A lot can go wrong.”
Brennan is the author of Life Interrupted: Trafficking Into Forced Labor in the United States. In it, she recounts the journey survivors of human trafficking endured from the moment they escaped their abusers to their efforts to rebuild their lives.
She also sheds light on how workers across low-wage sectors, such as construction sites or factories, can easily be places of exploitation and concealed forced labor. As a result of the hierarchy between aggressor and worker, victims are often stuck in a cycle of unending debts.
“Having never received wages, they relied on their handlers for housing, transport, food and the most basic necessities,” said Interpol. “But what sits behind these numbers is the human story,” Morris said. “Whether it is someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter, there is an intensely personal story that is usually – unfortunately – accompanied by a lot of suffering.”
What makes matters more complicated is that trafficking survivors can also be apprehensive about police assistance, and for a variety of reasons. Just because police busted trafficking rings does not mean the problems the victims were living with are solved. While the prominent offender has been taken care of, victims are often still subject to uncertainties such as poor living conditions, access to food, and overall safety.
“Now the hard work begins because they’re probably leaving with no documents, no money, no contacts and in many ways they’re in the hands of law enforcement or social service providers or government officials,” said Brennan. “Now, after having their trust so profoundly ruptured when in a situation of trafficking, they have no choice but to trust those who are giving assistance.”
More projects like Operation Libertad should be funded and implemented as they truly begin to dismantle the human trafficking issue. The victims are children, mothers and fathers wanting to acquire documents, finances and connections. It is unfortunate that they are exploited in their efforts to lead better lives.
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