Combating Modern-Day Slavery


with Nahja Martin of Polaris


Dec 31, 2018

The International Labour Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide.

Nahja Martin of the Polaris National Human Trafficking Hotline discusses how being aware of warning signs can help mitigate modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: In 2016, over 40 million people worldwide were estimated to be enslaved through forced labor and sex trafficking. And the United States is no exception. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. How prevalent is modern-day slavery? Nahja Martin, training manager for Polaris National Human Trafficking Hotline, joins me to discuss this question and much more. Nahja, thank you for being our guest today.

Martin: Thank you so much.

Hyland: As I understand it, this is a $150 billion industry worldwide. But here in the U.S., when we think of slavery or human trafficking, we often think of pre-Civil War era or something that´s happening in other countries, but it is happening right here in the United States. How prevalent is it? How widespread and how misunderstood is human trafficking?

Martin: Well, thank you, Sheila. Human trafficking is occurring in every single state in this country. It is happening in plain sight. It is happening all around. If we still have vulnerable populations, we´re still going to have human trafficking here in the United States, just like anywhere else in the world.

Hyland: Well, when we talk about human trafficking, what are we talking about? As I understand it, we could have people working in our houses that are actually enslaved, and we don´t even realize it.

Martin: Yes. So, human trafficking has 25 different types based off of a report that we put out in 2017. And that´s just here in the United States. So, it could be from domestic work, or it could be out in the fields picking fruit. You know, human trafficking has many, many faces, and we´re just starting to really understand the problem.

Hyland: How do people get into these situations where they´re victims of human trafficking?

Martin: So, it really just depends. It depends on what vulnerabilities traffickers are exploiting. It could be economic vulnerability. It could be a previous history of sexual abuse. It could be a whole wide variety of things. But what we´re finding is that if people don´t have opportunity or have an access to a means out, human trafficking is kind of a way that traffickers are exploiting those vulnerabilities and making sure that those people don´t have a way out and don´t have a voice.

Hyland: And you are trying to give them a voice and help give them a way out. So, Polaris has a hotline. Tell us about that and how people can get in touch with Polaris if they´re in a situation -- or if they know of someone who is in that situation.

Martin: Okay. So, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is operated by Polaris. It is a program of the Department of Health and Human Services. We have five different ways in which someone can get in contact with the hotline -- that is through a phone call, a text, a web chat, an e-mail, or an online tip report. And anyone can contact the hotline.

Hyland: And we want to mention, too, that´s running at the bottom of our screen, too, if you need help or you know someone who is in danger. How have victims typically gotten ahold of Polaris´ information in the past? I mean, they probably don´t have access often to a phone call. I´m sure they´re afraid to call in. And talk about some of those that have called in. Their stories -- they must be heartbreaking.

Martin: Yes. So, we have heard from people all across this country who are in the most terrible situation of their lives. They´re contacting us at their most vulnerable points. Folks are getting in contact with us just through our outreach programs, as well as through word of mouth. The survivor community is really, really fluid, and a lot of people are talking to each other in those communities and getting our number and our contact information out there.

Hyland: And tell us more about the survivors. Where are they now, and how are you helping them?

Martin: So, we are primarily a referral and resource center, where we are getting folks who need to get in touch with law enforcement or a service provider for case management and support services. We´re making those connections. So we´re really helping folks who are ready to get out, who are ready to make some changes in their lives. And we´re really just that connecting source. We don´t always know what happens after they get in contact with the service provider, but we trust our partners in the field who are making sure that these folks are getting shelter and food and a safe place to stay.

Hyland: Finally, Nahja, what are the signs that all of us can be on the lookout for to spot victims of human trafficking? How can we be aware and be of help?

Martin: So, it´s really important -- Just key into those human instincts. If something looks wrong, call the hotline. We can always walk you through a situation. We can talk to you about the various indicators of that particular situation. So, some really big things here are going to be if someone´s avoiding eye contact, if someone else is speaking for them -- you know, things like that that just seem off. So call the hotline. We can always walk you through it.

Hyland: All right, Nahja, thank you so much for being our guest here today.

Martin: Thank you so much, Sheila.

Hyland: Useful information. And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Sheila Hyland.

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