Labor Trafficking Happens Here

July 26, 2018

Written by Deborah Pembrook, Outreach Advocate

Agricultural workers

Monterey County has a problem with labor trafficking. Just a few weeks ago, we learned of a young dependent adult forced into servitude in a Seaside apartment. She had been allegedly tortured to death by her trafficker. Then we learned of ten agricultural workers found in a field in Salinas. These terrified workers had been forced to live in a small shipping container.


Our community is just beginning to acknowledge that human trafficking happens here and that it is a serious problem.


Human trafficking has a two-part definition. Fundamentally, human trafficking is when someone is compelled to work through force, fraud, or coercion, whether in a restaurant, a traveling sales crew, in agricultural fields or when an adult is forced to work in commercial sex. The added emphasis on adult is because of the second part of the definition: any child under the age of 18 who is involved in commercial sex is a human trafficking survivor. When a child or teen is selling sex, the force, fraud, and coercion are assumed.

It is thought that labor trafficking is the most prevalent form of human trafficking happening globally and in the U.S. Yet the bulk of the attention and funding aimed at ending human trafficking is steered towards sex trafficking. Although sex trafficking is serious and overwhelmingly traumatic, labor trafficking is equally serious and traumatic. Labor trafficking survivors often experience life-threatening fear and serious injuries, both from the physical assaults they suffer and from extreme overuse injuries due to constant work. Labor trafficking is often sexually abusive. Survivors of labor trafficking often describe the same PTSD symptoms experienced by sex trafficking survivors.


Labor trafficking has many warning signs ranging from subtle to obvious. These include someone who may have little control over their money or identity paperwork, or who may not be able to speak for themselves. They may lack medical care, appear malnourished or excessively tired. They may describe being kept under high security or surveillance.


Help is available to labor trafficking survivors. Monterey County Rape Crisis Center, who has been serving survivors of sexual assault for over 40 years, has expanded our services to include survivors of all forms of human trafficking. We offer emergency services, including advocacy and accompaniment, and can help survivors navigate the array of services and referrals they need. All of our outreach and training on human trafficking is aimed at all forms of human trafficking, including labor trafficking. And we are a part of the Coalition to End Human Trafficking, along with other direct service organizations who have also expanded their trauma-informed services to include labor trafficking survivors.

And yet there is so much more work to do. Our whole community needs to know how to identify and respond to labor trafficking. Monterey County Rape Crisis Center is available to help train your business, organization, or school on all forms of human trafficking. If you see a warning sign or something that doesn’t feel right, you can call the confidential and multilingual National Human Trafficking Hotline, which can help link to local resources in Monterey County. Their number is 1-888-373-7888.

Together, we can work to end labor trafficking in Monterey County.

This op-ed was published in the Monterey County Weekly.