What is human trafficking? Does it happen on Cape Cod?

Eric Williams
Cape Cod Times

Authorities in Massachusetts have requested a federal human trafficking probe after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent about 50 migrants, most of them Venezuelan, to Martha's Vineyard to shine a national spotlight on immigration issues.

The migrants have been relocated to Joint Base Cape Cod.

On Sunday, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Woods Hole, tweeted, "We are requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation to hold DeSantis and others accountable for these inhumane acts. "Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking."

State Rep. Dylan Fernandez, D-Woods Hole, talks to the media on Sept. 16 after about 50 migrants, most of them Venezuelan, arrived at the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority terminal in Woods Hole.

What is human trafficking?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice: "Human Trafficking is a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services, or commercial sex. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations define human trafficking as:

a) Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or

b) The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery."

According to Cape Cod PATH (People Against Trafficking Humans), a local organization that seeks to raise awareness around the issue, "Human Trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. It is a criminal activity in which traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control victims for purposes of engaging in commercial sex acts or forced labor services against their will."

More:Massachusetts seeks human trafficking probe targeting Florida Gov. DeSantis over migrants

Does human trafficking happen on Cape Cod?

Cape Cod PATH Chair Janice Hank said human trafficking occurs on Cape Cod and sex trafficking "is in everyone's backyard," adding that "there is labor trafficking on Cape Cod."

Employees from outside the country who work on Cape Cod can face issues with proper pay, housing conditions and working conditions that may cross into the trafficking realm, she said

More:Reverse Freedom Riders: Political pawns of the past mirror current Cape Cod migrant crisis

"Prostitution is the most common form of human trafficking in the U.S.," the Cape PATH website indicates.

At a human trafficking awareness press conference in 2016 in Hyannis, Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson said, "I can tell you this type of human trafficking is alive and well across America and Cape Cod."

At the same press conference, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said family dissolution, as well as drug abuse, puts young people at risk of traffickers and predators.

What are signs of human trafficking?

According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking indicators include:

— Living with employer

— Poor living conditions

— Multiple people in cramped space

— Inability to speak to individual alone

— Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed — Employer is holding identity documents

— Signs of physical abuse

— Submissive or fearful

— Unpaid or paid very little

— Under 18 and in prostitution

Joint Base Cape Cod is where the 50 or so migrants are being housed, arriving Sept. 16 after being transported from Martha's Vineyard by ferry. Most of the migrants are Venezuelan.

Questions to ask to determine if human trafficking is occurring

According to the the U.S. State Department, there are questions that may be asked to help determine if human trafficking is occurring, but this is "assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching."

 These questions include:

• Can you leave your job if you want to?

• Can you come and go as you please?

• Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?

• Has your family been threatened?

• Do you live with your employer?

• Where do you sleep and eat?

• Are you in debt to your employer?

• Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?

What to do if you believe human trafficking is occurring

If you believe you have identified someone in a human  trafficking situation, alert law enforcement immediately. It may be unsafe to attempt to rescue a trafficking victim, according to the U. S. State Department. You may also contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888)

More information about the National Human Trafficking Hotline from the U.S. State Department:

The National Human Trafficking Hotline, is a national 24-hour, toll-free, multilingual anti-trafficking hotline. Call 1-888-373-7888 to report a tip; connect with anti-trafficking services in your area; or request training and technical assistance, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources.

More:Venezuelan migrants share their stories before leaving Martha's Vineyard. What they said

The hotline is equipped to handle calls from all regions of the United States from a wide range of callers including, but not limited to: potential trafficking victims, community members, law enforcement, medical professionals, legal professionals, service providers, researchers, students, and policymakers.

Keep connected with the Cape.  Download our free app.