Language Barrier Poses A Challenge While Rehabilitating Human Trafficking Victims

Apr 29, 2015

The plight of human trafficking in Ohio is multi-layered. 

Aadvocates from around the state are working to rescue victims and help them establish a life for themselves after captivity. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Anti-trafficking advocates say that raising awareness and sharing knowledge are some of the most important tools in the effort to stop the problem.

This is why the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission gathers several times a year—most recently this week—for a meeting of the minds. It’s a chance for advocates from around the state to share what they know - for example, new statistics from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in its work with the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers showing that 135 victims of human trafficking have now been identified since July 2013.

Margaret Toal is the interim coordinator for the governor’s human trafficking task force. She says a major step for the state in its response to the epidemic is to continue collecting and refining such data.

“So that we don’t have estimates—so we have real numbers and we can also make sure that we’re educating prosecutors and judges around the state so that they’re aware that they have the tools in their toolbox to make sure we lock up traffickers for a very long time and we get victims to refer to their rights to services,” Toal said.

Freeing victims of human trafficking is just the first step. The state is also working on ways to rehabilitate victims and help them on a path towards independence and financial stability.

Yung-Chen Lu knows a lot about this step. He’s chair of the Ohio Asian American Pacific Islander Advisory Council and his group helps knock down any language barriers, a common problem for human trafficking where a large number of victims are of Asian descent.

“They kind of been brought into this country without any language training so they do not know how to speak English and that is a major hurdle,” Lu explained.

Lu says there are 35 different Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities in Ohio—that’s 35 different languages that could need to be translated at any time. This becomes a problem when doctors need to address health concerns and it hampers any type of job training.

“Some of them even in their own native language they cannot really put sentences—cohesively—well,” said Lu.

The advisory council has created a network of people and translators to help with these issues. Lu says they have liaisons who work with victims one-on-one to not only get their life back on track but to socialize.

“Get them out of their cage to speak up about their problem. And the liaisons not only work with them in a working environment but also treat them as a friend because of the friendship they can trust,” Lu said.

Toal with the task force says Lu’s help is just one piece to the larger puzzle in fighting back against human trafficking. She says they continue strengthening their relationship with service providers on the local level.

“Cause really a lot of the work happens on the grassroots level. It’s getting your local commissioners involved. It’s getting your coalition built to make sure we’re providing services on the backend after identifying a case, prosecuting it, locking traffickers up and getting the victims the services they need,” Toal said.

And for Lu it all goes back to raising awareness which he says is a sensitive topic for some communities but must be addressed.

“This is the sort of thing that we have to be culturally sensitive. And to mention this kind of thing without hurting them,” said Lu.

Meanwhile, the attorney general’s commission is considering expanding the list of professions that can be trained to identify possible human trafficking operations.  For example, health inspectors and cosmetologists are just a few professions already trained.