By Stephanie Bratnick, Anti-Trafficking Services Director of Preble Street
Human trafficking is not a new crime, but it has recently prompted heightened attention and action among social services, legal services, law enforcement, and the general public. Human trafficking victims/survivors are forced or coerced — through sexual, physical, psychological violence, and/or torture — to perform a variety of labor including sex work, domestic services, childcare, agricultural labor, and restaurant work. All these exist in Maine. Maine is also home to laborers, many of them recent immigrants, who are exploited by unfair labor and immigration practices, receive little to no pay, and are subjected to unsafe working conditions.
Since understanding the laws and systems of a new country can be challenging, immigrants can be especially vulnerable to trafficking inside the United States. Immigrants, whether asylum-seekers or refugees, may not know their rights as workers or may not know to whom to turn for help. Immigrants who are undocumented or who are inside the U.S. on a guest worker visa program may not seek help due to fear of prosecution or deportation. Some may hesitate to speak out due to threats to their families back home or they may fear losing their ability to work in the U.S.
Preble Street cares about the needs of all human trafficking survivors. Since 2013, our Anti-Trafficking Services (ATS) has been working to end human trafficking in Maine. While ATS is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, it is not part of the government or law enforcement.
ATS works with survivors and their communities to ensure survivors are empowered to make their own choices and take back power over their own lives. We provide intensive case management services throughout the state to women and men, transgender individuals, and children who have been forced into all types of human trafficking, including sex and labor. The people we serve do not need to have experienced trafficking in the U.S.; clients may have been trafficked inside their home country, forcing them to flee for asylum; inside a refugee camp; or during migration.
ATS is client-centered and grounded in an empowerment philosophy that increases access to services, support, and information. We help survivors understand services and information, and support the rights of survivors to make their own choices. Our purpose is to facilitate healing and growth and to promote individual and systemic justice for all trafficked persons, families, and communities.
From the outset, we work with clients to ensure they are offered choices in how and when they work with us, including access to the following services:
- Intensive case management
- Assistance with basic needs, including medical and substance use treatment
- Medication Assisted Treatment for opiate dependence
- Mental health and substance use counseling
- Shelter and housing referrals
- Links to other services, such as healthcare and legal aid
- Help with access to public benefits
- Civil, criminal, and immigration referrals
- Culturally sensitive services
- Advocacy through the criminal justice system
The following questions may help confirm whether or not something that you, your family member, or a community member has experienced is considered trafficking:
- Were your identification documents or passport taken away from you?
- Were you prevented from contacting your family or friends?
- Were you forced to give someone else the money you earned?
- Was another person in control of where you lived or worked?
- Were you given misinformation about the type of work, salary, or hours?
- Were you forced to work long hours, to work without taking breaks, or to work while sick?
- Did someone threaten you or your family?
- Were you forced to work to pay off a debt?
- If you are under 18, did you have to panhandle, sell either legal or illegal goods, have sex, or perform other sorts of work for money, food, shelter, or basic needs?
ATS is available to help understand what trafficking is, what it looks like, and how victims can get help. Our caseworkers speak many languages and are available to support all members of the diverse Maine community. Please feel free to contact us at (207) 775-0026 extension 1334 or (207) 415-8554.