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IRC in Silver Spring Combats Human Trafficking in Maryland

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The Anti-Trafficking Program at the IRC in Silver Spring provides trauma-informed, client-centered services to survivors of human trafficking. The focus of the Anti-Trafficking Program is to ensure that survivors have access to protection and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency through comprehensive case management, advocacy, education, collaboration, and capacity building. In honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, the IRC in Silver Spring sat down with Winifrida Kassembe, Anti-Trafficking Caseworker, to interview her about the office’s efforts to combat human trafficking in Maryland.

What is human trafficking?

As defined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, human trafficking is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for labor or services of a commercial sex act, by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.” Labor trafficking victims could be subjected to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery.

How did you become involved in the issue of human trafficking?

I became involved in the issue of human trafficking through my work in other departments at the IRC. As a health specialist in the Intensive Case Management Program (ICM), I served victims of human trafficking among other clients with intensive needs. I met a lot of survivors – some at their lowest point emotionally. Through compassion, active listening, respect, and an occasional gentle push whenever needed, I was able to build trust and improve a lot of people’s lives. The same principles guide me in my current role as the anti-trafficking caseworker at the IRC in Silver Spring. It has been some of the most rewarding work for me.

What does human trafficking look like in Maryland? How big of a problem is it?

Human trafficking continues to be a big problem in Maryland. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Maryland has been one of the top twelve states in the county for human trafficking for the last five years. It is believed that the state’s geographical location and easy access to transportation hubs make it easy for traffickers to do their dirty business and avoid detection. Among the top industries where human trafficking victims have been identified include massage parlors, residential and commercial front brothels, motels, restaurants and construction. Also, there are instances where victims have been brought to the United States to work as domestic servants for foreign diplomats.

What is the IRC in Silver Spring doing to combat human trafficking in the greater Washington DC area?

IRC in Silver Spring participates in the battle against human trafficking by providing direct services to victims, and by participating in advocacy and awareness activities in the community.

Direct Services: We provide a safe place for foreign national victims to share their needs and work with them to find ways to resolve any issue they may have. Services are tailored according to each client’s needs and priorities. We partner with local service providers – legal attorneys, medical and mental health specialists, employers, English instructors and law enforcement officials to name just a few, to whom we refer clients for services as needed. The main goal is to restore dignity and help clients reach self-sufficiency.

Advocacy and Awareness: We are part of various human trafficking task forces in the area. Members of the task forces include non-profit organizations, local and federal government agencies, legal and religious organizations, among many other groups. We meet periodically to discuss trends of human trafficking in the area, exchange best practices, and suggest changes aimed at preventing human trafficking, protecting victims and prosecuting traffickers. For example, one of the major discussions I have participated in was the campaign to make local hotels provide mandatory training to their employees on how to detect and report human trafficking activities in their hotels. Human trafficking task forces also provide various trainings and organize activities to raise awareness in the community about the issue of human trafficking.

How can the community help the IRC’s efforts to fight human trafficking?

The community can help IRC in Silver Spring’s efforts to fight human trafficking by raising awareness about the issue. They should share information about our services far and wide to make sure everybody knows we are here and we can help. Even though it is happening all around us, many people are still either unaware or regard human trafficking as a foreign issue that has nothing to do with them. Truth is, that nice nanny walking the kids in your neighborhood or the person repairing your roof could be a victim of human trafficking. Also, you never know, the next victim could be your loved one. Other ways the community can help is by donating their time and/or money to help IRC’s efforts to provide quality service to clients, among them victims of human trafficking.

If you are interested in helping eliminate human trafficking in Maryland or want to learn more, visit the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force at http://www.mdhumantrafficking.org/.

Read this article to learn more about efforts to fight human trafficking in Prince George's County: http://www.dbknews.com/2017/11/06/umd-prince-georges-county-police-grant...