Hampton Roads, Virginia – It’s called modern slavery, and experts say it’s happening in Hampton Roads.
You may witness forced labor without knowing it.
When you think of human trafficking, you might think of sex trafficking, which has received a lot of attention in recent years.
But there are other forms of human trafficking that can be right in front of you at restaurants, farms, and construction sites.
Forced labor occurs when a person is coerced against their will to provide work or services by the use of force, fraud or coercion.
Like many others, Manuel Gago fled his native Venezuela 9 years ago to find a safer place to live.
“It’s sad because a lot of immigrants who come to this country have come for this American dream and, like me, are escaping our nightmare in our country,” Gago said.
But he says for some it’s even worse when they get here.
He works for the Legal Aid Justice Center, a non-profit organization that provides legal services and assistance to low-income people.
According to their website, “The Legal Aid Justice Center partners with communities and clients to achieve justice by dismantling the systems that create and perpetuate poverty. Justice means racial justice, social justice and economic justice.
A group they help are victims of human trafficking and they traveled to the east coast to help people.
It is an area with many migrant workers, some of whom may be isolated, trafficked and in need of assistance.
He says poor living conditions, confiscation of passports and documents, and little or no compensation are just a few problems seen across the state of Virginia.
He said victims come with the promise of an incredible opportunity, but when they arrive they are forced to work hard and not paid properly.
He said some perpetrators would force them to live in overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions.
Experts say many people believe those involved in forced labor are in the country illegally, but the National Institute of Justice found that 71% were here on a work visa.
Experts say the main risk factors for someone becoming a victim are that they have recently emigrated or moved, economic hardship, unstable housing, a criminal record or a substance abuse problem.
Gago and his group try to reach out to victims of trafficking, working to bring them help and raise awareness about the problem.
If you are a victim of human trafficking or have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.