Friday, August 28, 2015

Would you Know What to Look For?

I wanted a pedicure before I left on my trip, but had forgotten to make an appointment at my regular nail salon.  I decided to try a walk-in nail salon instead. 

The storeowner looked up as I entered and asked me how he could help.  I responded I would like to get a pedicure.  He invited me to take a seat; I would only have to wait a few minutes.  He was right, about five minutes later he escorted me to the back of the salon and pointed to the technician’s station.

The woman smiled at me, motioning with her hand that I should take a sit and then lowered her head, intent on my pedicure.  I tried to be friendly and with little success attempted to carry on a conversation.  She seemed to speak minimal English and never made much eye contact.

I started thinking to myself:  “Is this lady all right—she is very quiet?  Does she want to be here?  Oh, I hope I am not getting a pedicure from someone who is being trafficked!  What are the signs I should be looking for?  I am not even for sure!”

While getting my pedicure, I vowed to myself that I was going to learn the signs that someone might be a victim of labor trafficking.

I did some research online and found that reading the tips on the websites raised a lot of questions.  Who would be able to remember all of this information?  Would the average person have the expertise to observe or address some of the points shared? Would someone like myself be seen as suspicious and overly aggressive if I asked some of the recommended questions—scaring the person into silence?

A bit frustrated I decided to take parts of what the experts had said and blend the information together to create a checklist of observations or simple questions that were usable for me—an average citizen – to identify instances of possible labor trafficking.
  • Does this person and/or other employees seem fearful, anxious, depressed or tense?
  • Is s/he avoiding eye contact? Are others?
  • Is someone else in the store closely watching this person and other employees?
  • Is there freedom of movement for employees?
  • Is the price for the service much lower than normally would be expected?
  • Is the person not allowed to personally receive a tip?
  • Does the establishment have opaque windows, bars on the windows, or does there seem to be an unusually high level of security?
I decided that if I was concerned I could ask the following questions:
  • Where do you live?
  • Did you grow up around here?
  • What other salons have you worked at?
  • How long have you worked here?
  • You seem very busy: do you have time to take breaks throughout the day?
  • Do you even have time for lunch?
  • If I want to come back, what are your working hours?

One website instructed readers to trust their instincts.  While I somewhat agree a person’s perspective is not always correct.  What I do agree with is if you are uneasy about what you have observed contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 and discuss your concern with them.  Ask them what you should do next.

When I reflected back on my experience at the walk-in salon, the only possible concerns were the lack of direct eye contact and the technician’s minimal use of the English language.  But she did not seem tense or nervous. The other nail technicians in the salon were very friendly and appeared to enjoy what they were doing.  When they finished doing someone’s nails, and no customers were waiting, the technicians would freely go from and come back to the salon.  As I was receiving my pedicure, other technicians stopped by and spoke good-naturedly to my technician.  She would nod her head and smile in response. 

The store owners also were giving manicures and pedicures and were concentrating on their own customers or a new customer who walked in to the salon.   There didn’t appear to be any special security.  My charge for the pedicure was an average price, and I was directed to give the tip directly to the technician that did my pedicure.

By doing some research I learned that my concerns were unfounded and I now feel better prepared for the future, plus I received a great pedicure!

Vicki Kloosterhouse is a concerned citizen who serves on the MHTTF and lives in Oakland County.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Journey of Learning

From the moment we are born, we begin to learn.  What and how we learn changes over the months, days and years.  We go from learning how to count on our fingers, to singing the ABCs, to learning how to add and subtract.  As we age and our interests mature from Looney Tunes to Leo Tolstoy, we move on to college and pick a major, a focus for our future careers outside of school.  For me that focus was social work.  I learned about therapeutic techniques, the history of welfare laws in the United States, and how to use the DSM – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  It was not until several years after I began working at Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit that I learned what human trafficking is.  

The international survivors of human trafficking with whom I have worked in our region have helped me learn not only what human trafficking is and how it is “defined.”  They have also helped me learn about people who have involuntarily left lives behind, and have had to learn what it means to create a new life in a strange land.  I have learned about Ethiopian tea ceremonies.  I have learned about food customs and dishes from the Togo.  I have learned about religious practices in French Guinea.  I learned about care-giving traditions in the Philippines.  I have even learned the “correct” way of giving a hug in Rwanda.  Most importantly however, I have learned to remain positive, despite the challenges someone may face.

All the survivors with whom I have, and continue to work with never agreed to, chose or expected to find them involved in an illegal form of work or to be sexual exploited.  They found themselves suddenly removed from their villages, cities, and countries-their homes- that they had known their whole lives due to a false promise of a “better” way of life.  Reflecting on the conditions that these survivors endured and yet survived; and realizing that through the support of my agency, and many other agencies in Southeastern Michigan, they were able to leave those situations; I cannot but admire the strength of them all.

In addition to showing strength, each survivor has shown such hope and positivity for the new life that they unexpectedly have to now make in a foreign land.  They express no doubts at being able to overcome obstacles.  Together, we discuss what they want this “new life” to look like and what support my agency and others can provide to help create it.  There is never a question of “will this happen” or “can I do this?”  They only have the thought: “I can do this.” My job is to see how we can help. 

I have seen survivors go from being unemployed with no income, to finding a full time job in two weeks.  I have seen survivors with little English skills be able to express to me their desires and fears in correct English within a few months of practice.  I have seen survivors enroll in higher education and succeed.  While I play a role in helping survivors learn the steps and the logistics of reaching their goals, I have learned that the belief “it will work out” comes from within them.

If survivors who have gone days without food and sleep, have remained locked in rooms while raped repeatedly, have worked for many hours for no pay, can view their lives in the United States as ones of hope and possibility how can I accept the negativity and allow it to creep in?  If they can overcome all that, smile, and remain positive in life for all that is to come, I (and we) can certainly do the same.

TAKE ACTION:  As we work to learn to focus on hope and positive in life, I ask you to consider what else is out in the world for us to learn where, and how does the tragedy that is human trafficking play a role in our lives, personal or professional?  What can we learn about those who are currently in such situations and who are in need of supports to leave?  On what aspect of this work can you focus on so our learning never ceases?  What will you learn today about human trafficking?

Julia Kessler-Hollar, LMSW Family Case Management Supervisor at Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit has been working since 2012 with international survivors of human trafficking in partner with the Northern Tier Anti-Trafficking Consortium of Heartland Alliance in Chicago, IL.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

When Human Trafficking Survivors Have an Attorney: Confidentiality

This blog entry is the first in a series offering a few tips for working with human trafficking survivors who are represented by an attorney. This entry discusses confidentiality.

Our work in the University of Michigan’sHuman Trafficking Clinic (HTC) is, at times, complicated by our clients’ relationships with volunteers and other professionals (e.g. law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, social workers, and therapists). We do not doubt that volunteers and other professionals are good-hearted people who want to help our clients. But, as in all interdisciplinary work, when more than one “helper” is involved there can be challenges.

Attorneys are legally and ethically bound to maintain a confidential relationship with clients. When an attorney and a client talk, their conversations are protected by the attorney-client privilege. Attorneys must keep those privileged conversations private unless the client or some other law permits the privilege to be broken. This is important for a few reasons.

First, a conversation between an attorney and client is not considered a privileged conversation if someone else is present. If a support person (e.g. a friend, relative, or volunteer advocate) wishes to be present for a client meeting, the conversation will not be privileged even if the client consents to the person being there. If you are asked to accompany a survivor to a meeting with an attorney, you should assume that it is fine to go along and wait outside the meeting to lend support. Generally it is best for support persons to exclude themselves from attorney meetings.

Attorney confidentiality also restricts our ability to share information with others. If you are helping a survivor and you need information about a legal matter, the client must give the attorney explicit permission to share information with you. Advocates call us and ask about the status of a client’s case. Please do not be offended if we cannot share information with you. If clients choose to share information and waive confidentiality, they may. Of course, no one should be pressured to waive confidentiality as it allows the client and attorney to speak honestly with each other about information that a client may not choose to share with anyone else.

Finally, attorneys may not reveal the identity of their clients without the clients’ consent. So, if our client has not publicly acknowledged HTC as his or her attorney, we will not confirm or deny to you whether or not we represent a survivor. We cannot even tell our current clients the names of our other clients without explicit consent from each client. So, you could have a conversation with one of us about a survivor and be surprised to later learn that we represent that survivor. Please do not be offended that we didn’t inform you during the conversation! Our rules require us to keep that information confidential.

TAKE ACTION: If you or someone you know wishes to contact HTC for legal advice and/or possible representation, please call 734-615-3600.

Suellyn Scarnecchia is a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.