Saturday, June 19, 2010

Calling Out For Help in Teeny Ways

Let's get this straight, I work full-time as a customer service representative for a bank. You may think I see money laundering as in millions of dollars. Sometimes I do but usually it's not even at an amount I can substantiate with to create a report. The US Federal Reserve may have created a somewhat comprehensive anti-money laundering policy for banks and other financial institutions to follow to prevent this but these guidelines are only after the big guns, which are very rare. In my own daily experience in dealing with the public, it is always around $5,000. Or in some instances, a few hundred dollars or even less than $20. Interacting with people in the bank setting for more than nine years has made me sensitive enough to pick up on subtle clues of people's behavior...

And then there are the real clues of human trafficking or enslavement that I can pick up on just like that. The fear and the strain in the victims' eyes are very apparent. Their souls are screaming, "Get me out of here! Please, help me!" Last week, I was helping a young Russian or eastern European lady with a credit card issue. The lady was so thin and gaunt that I was scared for her health. An older lady who appeared to be right around her ideal weight was impatiently waiting for her, appeared to be watching her every move and listening to her every word. This lady only comes in with cash to either make a deposit into her account or pay her credit card. Even with this, I cannot say that she truly is a victim of human trafficking.

Then, there are the Chinese people who do pretty suspicious transactions but it is so routine that most of my colleagues no longer question it. They have no clue that behind the accumulation of these wads of cash are people being abused and exploited for the benefit of greedy monsters. I see it everyday at work that I want to cut my hands most of the time. Before I began to fully understand the big problem of human trafficking, I just thought it was nothing but individuals trying to evade taxes or the authorities. No longer do I see it that way. My heart breaks every single evening knowing I could have freed a modern slave by just saying something but my words would surely fall on deaf ears.

Fear is mostly to be blamed for this because these people would kill you or your loved ones to silence you. But I am no longer afraid. In my own experience (personal not work), a great lack of courage has prevented justice from being served in the Philippine courts of murdered people. People are threatened and intimidated to do certain things. Vote buying has been a huge problem in Philippine elections. Just look at the headlines from the recent national and local elections... Just type in "Philippine elections" in any search engine and you'll see how dirty politics can really be.

In my own hometown, there is a red light district because of the former US Clark Air Force Base. Now, Americans, Australians, Europeans, Japanese and even Koreans can be found there as sex tourists. There has been many efforts to curb prostitution in Angeles City (my hometown). The Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has a large human trafficking task force that it also sends its specialists to other southeast Asian nations to provide assistance in raids and also, give expert advice. Local officials have been doing their best to abolish prostitution here ever since the US military has set foot in this city but corruption has plagued the Philippine archipelago so much that as soon as you put one fire out in one place, another one begins nearby (which is true also of the whole world, unfortunately).


  1. What a sobering personal view of human trafficking, Karina. These slaves are "hidden in plain sight" and, as you point out, are all around us.

    Diana Scimone
    The Born2Fly Project to stop child trafficking

  2. Diana,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful support.