Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Unaccompanied children are especially vulnerable to child trafficking due to their lack of protection, uncertain legal status, difficulty accessing school, and language issues, among other factors. To recognize National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we spoke with Kevin Jackson, staff attorney at KIND’s Atlanta office, who recently helped three clients who are survivors of human trafficking secure legal protection in the United States.
In one case, a client left her home country at age 13, fleeing sexual abuse. After she arrived in the United States, she became a victim of labor and sex trafficking. She eventually told someone what was happening and placed into foster care, where she started working with KIND. Now 18, the client is receiving counseling, going to school, and planning to attend college after high school. She received her trafficking (T) visa last spring. A T Visa is a type of visa for victims of trafficking that has several benefits including employment authorization and the possibility of adjusting status to Lawful Permanent Resident.
In another case, a client left her home country with her father to flee violence at age 12. But shortly after they arrived in the United States, the father disappeared, and the girl was left alone in a house where her father had been renting a room for them. The girl was first subjected to labor exploitation, forced to work for the landlord. Over time and without parental protection, the situation worsened and the client experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault. With the help of Kevin and the team at KIND, the client received a T Visa late last year. Reflecting on this case, Kevin shared:
“When I called her to tell her she had her T Visa approved, she burst into tears and said, ‘Thank you for helping me.’ It was a reminder of how much this means for kids, that they have security, that they won’t be deported, that they have people in their corner helping them. Especially when all the adults in their lives have been abusive, to have responsible caretakers and their KIND team looking out for them and working for them means a lot.”
Based on his experience working on trafficking cases, Kevin explained that child trafficking cases almost always begin as child abuse cases. A state or county’s ability to help human trafficking victims depends on the resources available to help vulnerable children overall. The strength of the jurisdiction’s child welfare system and availability of resources, e.g., for child abuse investigations, determines the human trafficking response.
Children without legal status may not feel empowered to speak out for fear of deportation. Schools can provide a safe space for children to disclose exploitation, but a young person who is no longer in the system will not necessarily have access to trusted adults. This is another way in which KIND’s work providing legal and other needed psycho-social services to unaccompanied children is critical. (Learn about how legal services protect children from labor exploitation).
As KIND lawyers assist survivors of human trafficking in our field offices around the country, KIND’s policy team advocates for ways to address and prevent child trafficking and labor exploitation. Last September, KIND submitted a statement for the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations hearing titled “Children are not for Sale – Global Efforts to Address Child Trafficking.”
KIND remains dedicated to this work and advancing the basic child protection principles that can prevent the trafficking of children and other abuse: all children should be able to seek assistance and request protection when in need and their best interests should be at the forefront of any decision-making affecting them.