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Sold into silent slavery

Preventing human trafficking has become a full-time job

Azra Grudic works for Lutheran Community Services as an anti-trafficking specialist in the Spokane office. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)
Azra Grudic works for Lutheran Community Services as an anti-trafficking specialist in the Spokane office. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)

If you think human trafficking is something that happens only in far-away countries, spend 30 minutes with Azra Grudic, the anti-trafficking specialist for Lutheran Community Services in Spokane.

You’ll discover facts about human trafficking that may alter forever the way you look at young prostitutes on the street, mail-order brides in rural communities and immigrant nannies working for rich families.

“They are hidden in plain sight,” Grudic says of the victims.

On Monday, a vigil will be held to raise awareness for human trafficking victims. Here’s some awareness in advance, courtesy of Grudic.

The definition

Human trafficking is considered any force, fraud or abuse used to control people, usually with a financial benefit for the one using that force. The coercion can come about through physical or psychological intimidation.

“Any type of commercialized sex with a person under the age of 18 is trafficking,” Grudic says. “If you have a 17-year-old girl on the street doing prostitution, she is a victim of trafficking.”

It’s happening in the Inland Northwest

Underage prostitutes are one example. Mail-order brides are another.

Marrying a mail-order bride from a foreign country is not illegal. But if that bride is forbidden by her husband to go anywhere alone, or if her immigration documents are controlled by her husband, it could be a case of human trafficking.

The Inland Northwest Task Force on Human Trafficking prepared a survey two years ago. It reported that about 10 mail-order brides a year seek out English language classes in the Spokane area. Many more likely live in rural areas surrounding Spokane.

Several of the women “had some of the indicators of human trafficking,” the report concluded. In one incident a mail-order bride was locked in her home when her husband left for work and “intimidated with multiple weapons.”

The Inland Northwest is also near the Canadian border, one entry point for victims, and a short trip inland from Seattle, another entry point, especially for victims from Asian countries.

What’s happening in bigger cities could happen here, too

In bigger cities, immigrant men and women are forced into labor at ethnic restaurants, nail salons and massage parlors that double as sex centers. Some are overworked as nannies in affluent families.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” Grudic says.

The red flags

Human trafficking can be spotted by alert neighbors, acquaintances, health care providers and other community members – if they know what to look for.

Grudic suggests the following questions:

•Does the person seem controlled by another person?

•If an immigrant, does the person have any control over ID and travel documents?

•Other than for work, is the person rarely allowed anywhere in public?

•Does the person seem fearful, overly submissive?

•Is language a barrier?

•Does the person have to ask permission to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom?

•Is the person locked in the house during the day or in a bedroom at night?

Grudic says a red flag should go up if “someone tells you they are only allowed to go to church on Sundays or they work 16 hours a day as a nanny.”

The helpers

For several years now, people in the Inland Northwest have been proactive in raising awareness about trafficking and helping its victims.

The Sisters of the Holy Names have taken on human trafficking as a primary cause worldwide. In Spokane, for instance, sisters educate travel agencies about how to recognize trips being organized for sex trade in foreign countries.

Monday’s vigil will be held at the Women’s Hearth in downtown Spokane. The center for homeless and low-income women is a program of Transitions, a collaboration of “women religious” communities, including the Holy Names order.

Grudic’s anti-trafficking specialist position is a full-time job, funded by a grant from the International Rescue Committee. She works through Lutheran Community Services because the agency has contact with women who are vulnerable to trafficking.

Grudic, 32, will speak to any group that wants more information.

“They just need to invite me,” she says. “I’ll be there.”

The Bosnian woman, who settled in the United States after war tore her country apart in the 1990s, has a master’s degree in social work from Eastern Washington University.

“I have always been passionate about human rights and social justice,” she says. “I’m a survivor of war and genocide. I want to prevent it from happening to anyone else.”

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