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Anti-trafficking program dispels misconception

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

Subtleties of human trafficking for labor or sexual exploitation, often make it difficult to identify, protect and provide resources for its victims.

Azra Grudic
Azra Grudic creates awareness of human trafficking.

So part of the anti-trafficking program at Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW) under the guidance of Azra Grudic is educating the community to identify signs of trafficking.

Azra, who started her career with LCSNW in July 2008 as a foster parent retention and recruitment specialist, began as anti-trafficking specialist in August 2009.

The anti-trafficking program at LCSNW is the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN), a coalition of non-governmental organizations providing comprehensive services to victims of human trafficking in Washington state.

Azra explained that WARN works closely with local and federal law enforcement to fight trafficking by identifying victims, helping them escape their exploitation and restoring their lives.

She acknowledged there are misconceptions about human trafficking because media coverage focuses on sexual trafficking. 

“Many think trafficking is about sexual exploitation, but trafficking related to labor is much higher,” Azra said.  “People also do not understand how hard it is for victims to leave their situations.”

According to WARN labor trafficking is using force, fraud or coercion to recruit, harbor, transport, provide or obtain a person for labor or services in involuntary servitude, bound to service for repayment of a debt or slavery.  WARN defines sexual trafficking as commercial sex induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person induced to perform the act is under age 18. 

People confuse smuggling with trafficking, Azra added.  Smuggling involves people who want to be moved across a border and pay money for someone to help them.  Their relationship with the smuggler ends at the destination.

Human trafficking, on the other hand, is a state of ongoing exploitation and often there is no travel, she said.  In addition, victims do not consent to their conditions or their consent is considered invalid because of the victim’s age or because of deception and/or abuse on the part of the trafficker.

Azra said that obstacles victims face when trying to flee include language barriers, threats against themselves and family members, physical abuse, conditions of imprisonment, fear of law enforcement or immigration authorities and especially lack of knowledge of their rights.

 “Our program is in the early stages, but we connect to similar programs in Western Washington and Yakima,” she said.

The program is funded by a two-year grant for Washington State and by the International Rescue Committee.  The U.S. Office of Refugees and Resettlement oversees the program.

Azra is pleased with support from law enforcement, immigration, shelters and agencies that provide direct services.  She attributes the success of her collaborative efforts to the positive relationship LCSNW enjoys in the community.

In 2003, Washington was the first state to pass a law criminalizing human trafficking. 

The U.S.  Department of Justice estimates that from 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year.

Washington’s Task Force Against Trafficking of Persons reports that the state is a hotbed for the recruitment, transportation and sale of people for labor.

Factors that make Washington prone to trafficking include its international border with Canada, its many ports, its rural areas and its dependency on agricultural workers, she said.

Human trafficking occurs in a wide range of industries including construction, agriculture, restaurants, food processing, domestic service, salons, massage parlors and small businesses, Azra said.

 “We are building a network to increase identification of victims and connect them with resources they need to feel safe,” she said.

Because the program is new in Spokane, she said that Spokane and surrounding areas are being assessed to determine the level of human trafficking.  LCSNW’s service area stretches from Idaho’s eastern border, north to the Canadian border, west to Moses Lake and south to Pullman.

There are many challenges in working with identified victims, Azra explained.  They lack trust and worry about the consequences of coming forward.

“Trafficking victims experience trauma when telling and retelling their stories,” she said, “and it is important to build trusting relationships carefully and slowly to ensure they feel safe and receive the support they need.”

Human trafficking victims are entitled to protection and assistance regardless of immigration status, she asserted.

Through LCSNW and WARN, trafficking victims have access to a variety of resources, which include: 24 hour urgent response; access to food and safe housing; immigration advocacy and legal assistance; physical and mental health treatment; interpretation services, and education and job readiness training.

Azra lived in northern Bosnia until her late teens and moved to Germany as a refugee in the middle of the Bosnian War, which lasted  from 1992 to 1995. She lived in Germany for seven years before coming to Spokane 11 years ago, sponsored as a refugee through World Relief.

After arriving, she worked in odd jobs, including child care, while earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2006 and a master’s in social work in 2008 from Eastern Washington University.  While at EWU, Azra interned with the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance, where she is still a volunteer.

She identifies herself as “deeply spiritual” and has a passion for human rights because she understands the consequences when people are denied their rights.

Azra hopes LCSNW’s program will be sustained after the grant period to increase awareness of human trafficking, ensure accurate identification of victims and provide resources needed for victims to pursue safe, self-sustaining lives.

“Our goal is to identify and assist victims, not to catch traffickers.  That puts victims more at risk,” she said.  “If concerned citizens witness something, they should not intervene, but call the police.”

Azra provides free training for community groups and organizations that want to learn more about human trafficking.

For information, call 343-5091.

Bureau lists several signs of trafficking

The Bureau of Justice Assistance Department lists several human trafficking indicators:

• General signs are living at or near work; restricted or controlled communication and transportation; moving frequently; many people living in the same space; lack of private space, personal possessions or financial records, and limited knowledge about the community.

• Physical signs include injuries from beatings; signs of malnutrition or torture, like cigarette burns, and brands or scarring indicating ownership.

• Financial and legal signs may be someone else having possession of legal and travel documents; debt; a third-party insisting on interpreting; no signed contract, or an attorney claiming to represent multiple legal aliens detained at different locations.

• Signs of a labor camp or sweatshop are security to confine victims—barbed wire, bars on windows, bouncers, guards or guard dogs—and shopping allowed only at a company store.

• Signs of a brothel include large amounts of cash; customer log book or receipt book; sparse rooms, and men coming and going frequently.


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