Mason professor Al Fuertes stresses the importance of Human Trafficking awareness.
BY VIVIANA SMITH, NEWS EDITOR
According to AP News in Jan. 2021, ex-Fairfax county officers were on trial for allegedly protecting a sex-trafficking ring based in Alexandria, Virginia. According to the Washington Post years later in Jan. 2023, the jury found that the Fairfax police did not protect a sex trafficking ring. The verdict was met with split opinions by the plaintiff and defendants.
According to Human Trafficking Courts, or HTCourts, The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 140 cases of human trafficking in Virginia in 2021.
People who are victims of human trafficking may be subjected to various forms of trafficking, with the most prevalent reason being sex trafficking in Virginia.
According to HTCourts, “Human trafficking affects between 150 to 300 victims every year. Over 80% of the cases each year involve sex trafficking.”
With this issue being in close proximity to Mason’s campuses, Professor Al Fuertes believes the Mason community should be more aware of the dangers of human trafficking.
According to Fuertes, human trafficking is a rampant issue in Northern Virginia, or the NOVA area.
With a background in conflict analysis and psychosocial trauma healing, Fuertes teaches course INTS 417, Human Trafficking and Smuggling, which sheds light on the reality of human trafficking.
“We try to learn about the nature dynamics of human trafficking [and] also [understand] that many of those who are being trafficked were also being smuggled.”
In the course, students are exposed to tactics used by human traffickers and smugglers take advantage of people who find themselves in vulnerable situations. Students are also introduced to the ways higher institutions and corporations aid in the continuation of the trafficking business.
Fuertes explains that the most rampant forms of human trafficking in the NOVA area are sex trafficking, drug trafficking and debt bondage. Many of the victims of these forms of trafficking are those who arrive into the country through human smuggling.
“Many employers take advantage of their vulnerability,” Fuertes said, “…knowing that most likely they will not report the case to the authority for fear of deportation or being detained.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center, “Individuals who experience human trafficking often experience a lack of long-term employment and a livable wage, wage theft, and illegal deductions from their paycheck.”
Human trafficking operations may not be easily identifiable to those unaware of its nature. Fuertes explains that most operations are under the table and become covered up as a reputable business.
“Many of the workers in our salons and spas are also people [that] were smuggled and ended up being trafficked,” Fuertes said. “Their travel documents are confiscated by the owners. That’s one of the ways traffickers control their victims.”
Fuertes advocates for the widespread knowledge of how and why human trafficking occurs and urges lawmakers to take legal action against practices that allow human trafficking to take place.
“We need to educate ourselves about the complexity of human trafficking, that it’s not just local, but it’s actually a transnational organized crime,” Fuertes said.
“We’ve got to have strict anti-human trafficking legislations. If we want to help address this problem, then we have to train our local authorities, lawyers and judges.”
Fuertes addresses change at the local level as well as higher institutions. He explains that college students can help combat human trafficking by being a conscientious consumer and urging politicians to be more aware of this situation.
“Be more intentional in buying Fair Trade products, where the workers are actually given their fair share, not just in terms of salary, but they’re also provided with a good livable working [and] living conditions,” Fuertes said.
“Support legislators, government leaders [and] politicians who are concerned about human trafficking.” Fuertes said.
People who find themselves in a trafficking situation or witness someone who may be in a trafficking situation may call the National Human trafficking hotline or refer to the Blue Campaign website for more information on how to report a case of suspected human trafficking.